Bill Keene, a senior epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Authority and a nationally recognized public-health hero, died this past weekend. He’s being remembered as a groundbreaking, life-saving epidemiologist. As Elizabeth Weise details in USA Today,
Keene and his team of over 30 staffers helped crack numerous national outbreaks [of food-borne illness]….
In 2011, Oregon public health officials noticed an uptick in cases of E. coli O157:H7, a deadly form of the disease. Interviews seemed to pinpoint strawberries, but the fruit had never been known to carry O157:H7.
“So Bill jumped in his car and drove over 100 miles to take samples in the strawberry field,” Hedberg said. Keene collected deer feces and proved that deer could bring E. coli into fields that could then be passed on to humans who ate what was grown there.
His car even sported a personalized license plate: O157:H7.
In 2009, 3-year-old Jacob Hurley testified before a House subcommittee in Washington, D.C., about how sick he was when he became part of a national outbreak of salmonella that was eventually linked to peanut butter produced by the Peanut Corporation of America in Blakely, Ga.
“But it was Bill who went to Jacob’s house to collect the leftover peanut butter crackers” so they could be tested, Hedberg said.
“There are not many in food safety that you can look at and say, ‘This person really made a difference’ — but Bill was one of those few people,” said David Acheson, president of the Acheson Group, which works with companies to improve food safety. He is a former FDA associate commissioner of foods. “Bill’s tenacity and insight saved lives, and he was truly a legend in terms of his epidemiological abilities.”