Foodborne illness attorney offers Milwaukee "Top Ten Tips" for dining out during an E. coli outbreak


Milwaukee, WI -- The current E. coli outbreak in the Milwaukee area is a good time for people to learn how to dine out defensively, says Seattle-based attorney Bill Marler, a nationally recognized food safety expert.

“Sizzler closing its outlets in the Milwaukee area does not mean you are safe,” says Marler, a Seattle attorney who represents victims of food borne illness throughout the United States. “Until health authorities identify and eliminate the actual source of the E. coli making people in Milwaukee sick, you are at risk, especially when dining out.”

Marler, who represented the most severely injured victims of the largest and deadliest E. coli outbreak in U.S. history in 1993, has developed ten tips for dining out more safely:

1.     Before ordering anything, WASH YOUR HANDS. If a restaurant’s wash rooms are not clean and/or readily available with hot water and liquid soap, don’t eat there.

2.     Research the restaurant before you go. Check with the local health department to see if the restaurant you are interested in has a good safety record, avoiding restaurants with multiple closures for health violations.

3.     Ask the restaurant about its own food safety policies. Quality restaurants will gladly provide you with their food safety policies and plan, especially if you call the manager during non-peak hours.

4.     Do not accept menu or service mistakes. These can be signs there is that food is being improperly handled or prepared. Marler says if restaurants succeeded in keeping “hot things hot” and “cold things cold,” there would be far fewer incidents of food-borne illness.

5.     Ask questions, especially about where the restaurant food suppliers. As consumers, you have the right to know if a restaurant is getting items such as meat and poultry from vendors that test for bacterial infections; and then holds the shipment until results of the tests are known.

6.     Leave small children at home. Small children are especially susceptible to the deadly effects of foodborne pathogens.

7.     Be extremely careful when dining out with the elderly, or persons with immune deficiencies. Next to small children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to food-borne illness.

8.     Avoid restaurants that invite “cross contamination.” Marler says some restaurants are “designed” to spread disease. Self-serve cafeteria-style outlets where it's clear most people have not washed their hands and are touching everything being offered, and the so-called “salad and steak” bars, are especially troubling.

9.     Be especially careful during “unsolved” outbreaks. Until health officials have the facts, do not assume anything about an on-going outbreak. Sometimes it is not the restaurant that is initially closed down, but some other product being used that is the culprit.

10.  Finally, educate yourself about food-borne illness. Marler suggests locating information at local libraries or on the internet. For E. coli, he invites Milwaukee residents to visit www.about-ecoli.com.