Food poisoning at food safety conference — Har!

Authorities confirmed that the attendees of the 2014 Food Safety Summit in April were struck by food poisoning. Back in April, NBC reported that authorities had received accounts of more than 100 people who had fallen ill after eating a meal at the conference. At the time, health officials were not sure what caused the outbreak. According to Food Safety News, the illness has been linked to tainted chicken marsala served at lunch.

In total, 216 conference attendees — most of whom are experts in food safety — fell ill after eating the dish which a new report shows was contaminated with C. perfringens…The bacteria causes symptoms like stomach cramps, vomiting, and fever. The outbreak was apparently the first in the summit’s 16-year history.The Food Safety Summit notes in a statement that they are working with the convention center to ensure next year’s event is outbreak (and probably chicken marsala) free.

I’d love to know who was the producer of that delightful chicken.

A follow-up check of the facility didn’t find anything more dangerous than a fridge that dripped a bit of condensate.

Thanks, Mike

It is time to break up the “too big to fail” banks


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

America is downsizing. Whether it’s the food we eat, the cars we drive, or the houses we live in, Americans are concluding that smaller is better. Even U.S. corporations are starting to see the benefit of more Lilliputian institutions; the impending — and widely hailed — breakups of McGraw-Hill and Kraft are two examples.

So what about banks? It would surely be in the government’s interest to downsize megabanks. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) continues to push his bill to split apart the largest institutions. Regulators have new authority to order divestitures under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. From a shareholder standpoint, government breakups have a pretty good outcome. It worked out well for John D. Rockefeller, whose shares in Standard Oil doubled after it was ordered to break up. Ditto for those who owned stock in AT&T.

Yet with gridlock in Washington, don’t count on politicians for a solution. Shareholders, however, have an interest in demanding that big banks split apart. Comparing the valuation for the supersize banks – Citigroup, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan Chase with their simpler, leaner competitors isn’t pretty. Price/earnings per share for the supersizers averages 5.8, compared with 8.1 for smaller, more focused Wells Fargo and 8.1 for the bigger regional banks like U.S. Bancorp and PNC. More telling is the ratio of share price to tangible book value. For the supersizers, the average is 72% of book, compared with 165% for Wells and 142% for the big regionals. Chase’s strong performance holds up the average for the supersizers, but even its price to book is only 110%…

Supersizers argue that their scale is necessary to meet the financial needs of multinational corporations. But it’s not clear that multinationals find it advantageous to do business with a handful of financial titans. Dealing with smaller, more focused institutions provides specialized expertise and less risk of conflicts. If there were really that much value in supersizer services, presumably it would show up in shareholder returns. But it doesn’t…

So, shareholders, get ye to the boards that represent you and ask them loudly about whether your company would be worth more in easier-to-understand pieces. The public-policy benefits of smaller, simpler banks are clear. It may be in the enlightened self-interest of shareholders as well.

Regular readers know that I would vote for Sheila Bair for President of the United States – even if she ran as a Republican. I don’t have to worry about that because [1] she doesn’t want the job and [2] the Republican Party is led by idiots who would never support her. She might take the job as Secretary of the Treasury, someday – and the Kool Aid Party would oppose that, too.

Don’t confuse her criticism of “too big to fail” with two other aspects of national financial policy. When push came to shove – even where we might not agree on which financial institutions should be offered aid or not – what was offered was loans which have mostly been repaid with interest. A profit to US taxpayers. The same is even more true for the auto industry. The motivation had more to do with structural importance to the US economy. The result has been more dynamic, a healthier marketplace and, again, we’re being paid back at a profit.