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Extortion Scheme Threatens SF Restaurants

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By: Jana Katsuyama
Posted: Aug 18 2018 12:55PM PDT

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) – The San Francisco District Attorney issued a warning about an email scam targeting restaurants, which threatens to ruin their reputations if they don’t pay out money. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association says the emails were sent out this week to restaurants across the city.

“We’ve heard from about 15 to 20 that they received this letter,” said Gwyneth Borden, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, “We started getting them from a variety of different restaurants and so we realized it was a problem.”

Tommy Halvorson, the executive chef and owner of Serpentine was one of the targets. He says he checked his email inbox Wednesday and one email caught his eye with the subject line.

“This email comes up and it said “reputation” and I was like, oh great what is this?” Halvorson said.

The email said it was from a Natasha Nixon, a PR manager and stated “I was hired by your competitor to write a negative press release about your restaurant using awful photos of the food containing hair and insects.”

“The email even said I don’t think any of this is true but I’m going to do it anyway,” said Halvorson who added that the email asked for money or the fake photos would be sent to 500 news media companies.

“Normally scams don’t elicit any emotional response,” said Halvorson, noting this one felt different, “The language felt personal and so it made it feel more real.”  It turns out Serpentine wasn’t alone.

Waterbar restaurant on the Embarcadero received the email two days earlier. The restaurants Prospect and Scoma’s were also among the businesses targeted, according to the restaurant association. The GGRA immediately contacted the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

“Essentially it’s a type of extortion,” said Alex Bastian, spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, “We of course are going to take all the steps necessary and we are going to be coordinating as much as possible with all the entities that can investigate these cases.”

At Serpentine, the owner just wants people to know about the scam, in a business where survival rests on reputation.

“We’re a small restaurant, so we’re affected by everything,” said Halvorson, “Ten to fifteen people per night could make or break the difference here, so it’s a huge deal.”

The District Attorney’s office says any business that receives the scam email should file a report with the FTC and notify the San Francisco DA.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association has posted a list of tips on how to avoid falling victim to scams:

Blackmail and Internet Scams: How to Tell and What to Do

Trichinellosis Outbreak Linked to Consumption of Privately Raised Raw Boar Meat

Trichinellosis Outbreak Linked to Consumption of Privately Raised Raw Boar Meat
Guidelines by the USDA recommend that pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, 20 degrees less than the previous standard of 165 degrees. The change is because there has been a major decline in Trichinellosis in pigs. The reduction comes from inspection programs that have been in place for many years and strict agricultural and food processing standards.

Historically, tricinae infection in pigs was associated with feeding raw garbage to pigs now the agricultural standard is the garbage must be cooked to eliminate the parasite before being fed to the pigs. But if privately raised pigs or wild boar eat raw or undercooked garbage such as meat scraps, and table waste their meat could pose a risk for the tricinae infection. Also, wild boars often eat rats, racoons, skunks, and opossums’ animals that have high prevalence rates for trichinate. 

“Our consumer research has consistently shown that Americans tend to overcook common cuts of pork, resulting in a less-than-optimal eating experience,” said Pamela Johnson, director of consumer communications for the National Pork Board. “The new guidelines will help consumers enjoy pork at its most flavorful, juicy – and safe – temperature.”
However, the USDA recommends that consumers of fresh pork including wild boar cook the product to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

12 cases of trichinellosis were reported by people who attended an event at which larb, a traditional Laotian raw pork dish was served. The implicated pork came from a domesticated wild boar raised and slaughtered on a private farm in Northern California; leftover samples were found to contain Trichinella spiralis. Nine infected persons were hospitalized with sepsis and seven had acute kidney injury.

Cultural practices that involve the consumption of raw meat might place certain groups at a higher risk for the Trichinella parasite. The CDC recommends efforts to provide education to private framers, hunters, and communities that are at risk to reduce the risk for infection.

Cyclospora Outbreak at McDonalds

436 sick, 20 hospitalized due to parasitic illness linked to McDonald’s salads. 

The CDC says 436 people have been diagnosed with a laboratory-confirmed intestinal illness linked to salads sold at McDonald’s. Health officials will likely report additional cases in the weeks to come because there is up to a six-week lag between when a person becomes sick with cyclophorias symptoms and when the infection is lab-confirmed.

Of the 436-sick people, 20 have had such severe symptoms that they have been hospitalized; no deaths have been reported.
The illness can last a few days to a few months, and patients might feel better but then get worse again. cyclophorias can be treated with antibiotics.

Advice to consumers: Anyone who has eaten a McDonald’s salad and developed symptoms of cyclophorias should seek medical attention and tell their doctor.

Symptoms can begin a week or more after consuming the parasite. They include diarrhea and frequent, sometimes explosive bowel movements, loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps or pain, nausea, gas, and fatigue. Vomiting, headache, fever, body aches and flu-like symptoms can also occur.