Ryan Osterholm doesn’t eat sprouts, won’t touch undercooked ground beef and would never dream of drinking raw milk. These prejudices arise from his professional perspective on the risks of exposure to E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cyclospora and other such pathogens
Just seven years out of the University of Minnesota Law School, Osterholm has carved out a national practice focused almost exclusively on food-borne illness litigation at PritzkerOlsen, a Minneapolis personal injury firm that has pioneered the use of sophisticated new technologies to identify the source of outbreaks. Along the way, Osterholm has also become a go-to source for reporters looking for expert comment on the latest stomach-turning episodes.
The Edina native grew up in a medical household. His father, Michael, is the noted epidemiologist; his mom is a nurse practitioner; his sister is a physician. But Osterholm was more interested in political science. After his second year of law school, he landed as a summer associate at Marler Clark, a Seattle firm with a food-borne illness practice, and something clicked. “I didn’t even know this area of law existed, but the more I was exposed to it, the more I was fascinated,” he explains.
Osterholm sees his work as important — and not just for his injured clients. “If we didn’t exist, I don’t think companies would take food safety as seriously,” he says. “We are championing the cause of safer food and that’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
In his spare time, Osterholm cultivates giant pumpkins. “Last year, I grew one that weighed about 600 pounds,” he says. “It’s an interesting hobby but I don’t know how the hell I got started on it.”