The Worst Public Health Offenders of 2014

Embracing solid science has allowed mankind to develop novel disease cures and even put a rover on a comet.

But some continue to promote snake oil remedies or focus on profits before people, which can jeopardize human health and wellbeing.

Here are the people and organizations that were notable in 2014 for using less-than-best practices.

Foster Farms

If you’ve got some Foster Farms chicken in your freezer, you might consider throwing it out.

Foster Farms, one of the West Coast’s largest poultry producers, relies heavily on the routine use of antibiotics to prevent disease. The scientific community says this practice helps create a breeding ground for the drug-resistant bacteria that sicken 2 million Americans every year.

Learn How Patient Demand Drives Antibiotic Overuse »

In October 2013, an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg that was resistant to some antibiotics was discovered in Foster Farms chickens sold at Costco. The strain sickened 634 people by July 2014; more than a third were hospitalized.

Foster Farms

As the Centers for Disease Control investigated the outbreak, Foster Farms continued to process chicken at the contaminated plants. The company didn’t issue a recall on products until July 2014.

When inspectors found unsanitary conditions and cockroaches at one Foster Farms plant, the company closed it for less than a week.

“A simple chicken dinner shouldn’t make people sick,” Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote. “Foster Farms says it has addressed the cockroach issue and is taking steps to reduce contamination rates, like more inspections and more frequent cleaning of equipment. That might stop cockroaches, but it probably won’t stop the spread of superbugs like antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg.”

In November, Foster Farms announced a multistep plan to reduce Salmonella contamination in the future.

Learn How Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Grow and Evolve »

The affected chicken, which may still be in consumers’ freezers, was shipped to distribution centers in 11 states and bears “use or freeze by” dates ranging from March 2014 to September 2015.

Pinkwashers

If you recently purchased something with a pink ribbon on it believing it would help fund breast cancer research, you’re contributing to a multimillion dollar industry. But not necessarily the one you thought.

“Pinkwashing” is the term used to describe those who profit from waving pink ribbons while sending little money to research centers.

This year, professional football players and stadiums donned less pink merchandise during October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — after it was revealed that just 8 percent of the revenue from the NFL’s pink gear actually went to breast cancer research.

Susan G. Komen, the most prominent nonprofit backer of pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, has come under fire for what it does with funds raised from its campaigns.

Related: CEO of Susan G. Komen Speaks on the Power of Awareness »

Others have taken offense at the potential use of donor dollars to bring legal action against other charities that use the term “for the cure,” while only about 20 percent of Komen’s own funds go toward cancer research.

Dr. Oz

If you’ve seen a few episodes of The Dr. Oz Show, you’ve likely heard Dr. Mehmet Oz’s “miracle” weight loss claims. Oz’s so-called obesity cures, such as green coffee beans and the tropical fruit garcinia cambogia, are nutritional supplements whose marketing claims are not subject to Food and Drug Administration rules.

Dr. Oz

Unfortunately, the scientific evidence to support those claims is, well, absent.

In June, the celebrity doctor was grilled by members of the U.S. Senate about his promises of waist-trimming wonders.

Oz acknowledged there is no "miracle" weight loss fix. When he said there was on his show, Oz was just being a “cheerleader” for the audience, he said.

Learn More: Debunking the Green Coffee Weight Loss ‘Miracle’ »

Climate Change Deniers

Yes, it may be cold out, but no, that’s not evidence that climate change is a hoax. Those who continue to say it is are damaging public health.

Higher average global temperatures damage human health through extreme heat and more frequent natural disasters, according to the World Health Organization. And by expanding patterns of infection, climate change could expose an additional 2 billion people to dengue-carrying mosquitoes by 2080.

The same pollution that causes climate change also causes air pollution, which is linked to 7 million deaths across the world each year.

Read More: Climate Change Could Be Devastating for Global Human Health »

Photo of Dr. Oz courtesy of David Shankbone via Creative Commons.