An accomplished attorney and national expert in food safety, William (Bill) Marler has become the most prominent foodborne illness lawyer in America with his firm, Marler Clark: The Food Safety Law Firm, and a major force in food policy in the U.S. and around the world. For the past 26 years, Bill has represented victims of nearly every large foodborne illness outbreak in the U.S. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the historic Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, in her landmark $15.6-million settlement with the company. The 2011 book, Poisoned, by best-selling author Jeff Benedict, chronicles the Jack in the Box outbreak and the rise of Bill Marler as a food safety attorney.
Bill's advocacy for a safer food supply includes petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture to better regulate pathogenic E. coli, working with nonprofit food safety and foodborne illness victims' organizations, and helping spur the passage of the 2010–2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). His work has led to invitations to address local, national, and international gatherings on food safety, including testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Bill travels widely and frequently to speak to food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about the litigation of claims resulting from outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria and viruses and the issues surrounding them. He gives frequent donations to industry groups for the promotion of improved food safety, and has established numerous collegiate science scholarships across the U.S. He is also a frequent writer on topics related to foodborne illness and the Publisher of the online news site, Food Safety News, and his award-winning blog, www.marlerblog.com. He is frequent media guest on food safety issues and has been profiled in numerous publications.
In 2010, Bill was awarded the NSF Food Safety Leadership Award for Education, and in 2008 he earned the Outstanding Lawyer Award by the King County Bar Association. He has also received the Public Justice Award from the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. Bill graduated from the Seattle University School of Law in 1987, and in 1998 was the Law School's "Lawyer in Residence." In 2011, he was given Seattle University's Professional Achievement Award. He is a member of the board of directors of Bainbridge Youth Services and a member of the Children's Hospital Circle of Care.
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In this episode of Food Safety Matters, we speak with Bill [4:24] about:
- How taking on and winning the various lawsuits related to the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak helped shape the rest of Bill's career, and what he took away from these cases on a personal level
- How his career in defending victims of foodborne illness has become an "avocation" in addition to his "vocation," and his desire to do more work to advance food safety policy
- How Jack in the Box, under Dave Theno's leadership, turned around its operations following the outbreak and set new standards for the fast food industry
- The significant regulatory and industry changes that were enacted by USDA as a result of the 1993 E. coli outbreak
- Bill's advice for companies that want to shore up their food safety programs before it's too late, and the "warning signs" he sees in every foodborne illness case he defends
- How food safety culture, as communicated from the top management down, can successfully shape food safety practices and empower employees company-wide
- Potential strategies for recall modernization, including improved traceability technologies for supply chains and better ways to communicate recall information to consumers
- Bill's shortlist for critical food safety improvements that need to happen over the next five to ten years.
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