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OutbreakFoodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety$
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Timothy D. Lytton

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226611549

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226611716.001.0001

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Building a Better Burger: How Media Coverage and Civil Litigation Facilitate Policy Change

Building a Better Burger: How Media Coverage and Civil Litigation Facilitate Policy Change

(p.86) 4 Building a Better Burger: How Media Coverage and Civil Litigation Facilitate Policy Change

Timothy D. Lytton

University of Chicago Press

The 1983 outbreak of E. coli O:157-related illness traced to hamburgers sold by Jack in the Box restaurant has been called the 9/11 of food safety. This chapter demonstrates how media coverage and civil litigation in response to this outbreak transformed the regulation of fresh meat and poultry production. The chapter provides a brief history of beef and poultry inspection, including passage of the landmark Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906. The chapter then shows how litigation brought by attorney Bill Marler against Jack in the Box prolonged press coverage of the outbreak for years and mobilized consumer advocates, both of which created public pressure for major regulatory reform, culminating in the USDA’s imposition of HACCP requirements on the beef and poultry industries. The chapter also details how Jack in the Box hired HACCP expert Dave Theno to institute risk management controls throughout the company’s supply chain, from slaughterhouse to service counter. After assessing the public health impact of these reforms, the chapter observes that policy change in the food safety system progresses in fits and starts, a pattern that is elucidated using the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

Keywords:   E coli, Jack in the Box outbreak, civil litigation, beef industry, meat inspection, Meat Inspection Act, Bill Marler, Dave Theno, USDA, punctuated equilibrium

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