Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ensuring new food-safety legislation is effective

The laws governing the food-safety functions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not been substantially updated in more than 70 years, but congressional lawmakers will hopefully soon change that fact.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote soon on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), a bill that would give the agency the powers to help prevent foodborne illness before people get sick instead of just react to outbreaks after they happen. The bipartisan legislation would provide FDA with mandatory recall authority, improve federal inspections of food-manufacturing facilities and require food processors to identify potential risks.

But a proposal by a member of the Senate would greatly undermine the intended goal of the legislation: improving the safety of the nation’s food supply.

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) is poised to offer two amendments to S. 510 with broad exemptions that S.T.O.P.-Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) believes would severely hamper the ability of the bill that to protect public health.

The first of these ill-advised proposed amendments would exempt any farm – no matter the size – from safety standards when it sells its produce to a wide range of customers including hotels, restaurants, or institutions. These institutions could include schools and nursing homes, both of which provide food to populations particularly at risk from serious complications and death from foodborne illness – children and the elderly.

Moreover, U.S. trade agreements require that any exemptions be granted to both domestic and foreign growers, further limiting FDA’s oversight of potential dangers to the food supply from foreign products being served at these institutions.

S.T.O.P. and others in the Make Our Food Safe coalition want to make sure that the local, sustainable and organic communities are not unduly burdened by S. 510. However, dangerous pathogens do not discriminate among growers by the size of their farms or facilities or who they sell to. We believe the best approach to achieve fair and protective standards is to provide these growers with technical assistance and training to help them comply with the law, not provide them with exemptions that put any potential consumers of their products at risk..

The second of Sen. Tester’s proposals would exempt certain food processing facilities from safety requirements in S. 510 based on the adjusted gross income from the facility. This language would create a large loophole that limits the legislation’s reach and, like the proposed produce safety exemption, would exempt not only many domestic facilities but also foreign companies as well from these measures that are intended to protect public health.

We share Sen. Tester’s concerns for small and local processors. However, we believe S. 510 has already addressed these concerns. In order to make safe food a reality for American consumers, we need a modern food-safety system that is comprehensive and encompasses all facilities, regardless of size.

S.T.O.P. has supported thousands of foodborne illness victims in the past 17 years. Each new outbreak — from E. coli in spinach, lettuce and cookie dough to Salmonella in peanut butter, spices and Veggie Booty snack treats — has brought us new faces and tragic stories.  We believe that S.510 could help save more people from becoming future victims and want to ensure that all food products are safe. Rather than exempting facilities from regulation we need to be exempting pathogens from the food supply- period.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Guest Blogger Margo Calls for Reform and Passage of S.510

Meet Margo, a college senior who traveled with us to DC to work on FDA Reform. I've asked her to talk about her trip and why she wants to see movement on S.510.

Food safety is probably the last thing on a college kid’s mind. At least it was for me. That all changed in May of 2009 after I spent six nights in the hospital after eating an FDA approved food item that was contaminated with e. coli O157:H7.

In May of 2009 I was at school in Charleston, South Carolina getting ready to attend a school  awards ceremony when I decided to bake cookies. With no fresh eggs at the local corner store, I picked up some pre-packaged cookie dough. When I got home I quickly split them apart, took a nibble and threw them in the oven.  Little did I know that the one nibble would almost kill me in the following two weeks.

Over the next week, I started feeling lethargic and woke up one morning drenched in sweat and extremely nauseous. I toughed it out and took my previously scheduled flight back home to Staunton, Virginia. But over the next few days, I continued getting worse and worse until I had a burning sensation in my stomach so strong that my mom took me to the emergency room. In the ER, I was forced to drink three bottles of liquid so I could have a scan done. Doctors didn’t know what was wrong so they isolated me and I was put on powerful antibiotics until a test three days later into my six-day hospital stay revealed that I had e. coli O157:H7.

I can’t really tell you about what happened while I was in the hospital. For most of my stay I don’t remember the details. I remember telling my mom that something was in me and I thought I was rotting from the inside out. It turns out I was right. There was something in me. e. coli is not just a stomachache. It is not pretty or glamorous. It is extremely painful and basically causes your body to rot out.

No one should be told there is a strong chance that their senior year of college will be ruined because of multiple surgeries. No one should be told that if they had just waited just a few more hours to come to the ER they wouldn’t be alive. I was told all of these things.

Today I am very involved with S.T.O.P – Safe Tables Our Priority  In March of 2010 I traveled  with S.T.O.P. to Capitol Hill in DC to speak to our senators about the importance of getting S. 510: The Food Safety Modernization Act to the Senate floor for a vote. Traveling to DC was an experience I will never forget. A part of me was in denial about how much this whole ordeal had changed my life. After listening to so many stories of others I cried. It was the first time I had really cried about it since it happened.  If anything, listening to the stories of deceased parents and children made me more determined than ever to greatly improve the status of our food safety system.

In March I was told that S. 510 would be voted on very shortly. On May 8th, 2010 I will graduate college. On May 8th, 2009 I wasn’t sure if that would be a reality. The best graduation gift I could get would be for everyone who reads this to tell their senator to bring this bill to the floor for a vote now. To give your senator this message, please click here:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Meet Dana, our 12 year old food safety advocate

Two weeks ago I was joined in Washington D.C. by 40 victim members of S.T.O.P. and our partners from the Make Our Food Safe campaign to lobby for S.510 - The Food Safety Modernization Act. One of those members was Dana. I asked Dana to share her experience of her trip, what she did and how she felt. Here is Dana's account of her trip to Washington and why she feels so strongly about food safety:

My name is Dana and I am 12 years old.  I just got back from Washington, D.C. where I met with Senators to tell them my story about how I almost died because I ate cantaloupe that had Salmonella Poona.  Everyone I met with couldn't believe that cantaloupe made me that sick but it did and I still have lots of joint pain because it got into my blood stream and caused blood poisoning.  It was really scary to almost die yet in Washington I met with other kids who also got sick from eating foods so I felt that I was not alone.  When I met with the Senators and other people who can help support S.510 so people don't get sick from eating foods, they made me feel better because they listened to my story and want to help change the law. I hope to go back to Washington, D.C. soon to see my friends but more important to know that a new law is passed so people don't get sick anymore from eating foods. My sister is 3 years old, the age I was when I got sick. I don't ever want anything to happened to my sister so I need the help of the Senators in Washington, D.C. to make sure my sister and every bodies sisters and brothers don't get sick and almost die like I did.

I know Dana's bravery and willingness to make a difference made an impact on everyone she met. If you would also like to help make an impact, click here to send a message to your Senators urging them to bring S.510 to the floor for a vote. In the meantime, you can help keep your family safe by signing up for S.T.O.P. E-alerts which deliver timely information about food safety and recalls right to your email inbox.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Weekly Round Up

It’s been a crazy week here at S.T.O.P.--Safe Tables Our Priority!  I have been getting ready to head out to Washington, D.C. with a group of victims and family members who have gotten ill from from FDA-regulated products.  While a lot has been going on here, there has also been plenty going on in the news.  Here’s a sample of what we’ve been hearing about this week in regards to food safety.  As always, you can receive this information as well as times updates on food safety information and recalls delivered right to your e-mail inbox by signing up for our S.T.O.P. E-alerts.

Salmonella in granola bars
FDA Recalls informs us of the third granola product to be recalled for salmonella contamination in the past two weeks.

Against the tide, bipartisan legislation emerges on food safety
The Hill takes a look at the United States Congress’ bipartisan efforts to protect our citizens from unsafe foods.

147 Olympic food vendors fail inspections
It’s sad to see that more than 1/3 of the food operators catering to this year’s winter Olympics did not fully meet health regulations.  Not taking proper precautions at an event like the Olympics could have dire consequences for a large number of people.

Local mom pushing for tougher food regulations
This Fox article quotes one of our victims who will be traveling to Washington, D.C. with us next week.  She’s been a great part of our struggles to help strengthen food safety regulations.

Jell-o and mouse poop in a school cafeteria
This nauseating barf blog post tells about two schools in Pennsylvania that failed health inspections after having mouse droppings found in their cafeterias.  With stories like these, it’s hard to trust that our kids are being served safe, healthy food in school.

Friday, February 19, 2010

It’s time to reconsider the broad use of antibiotics in farm animals

Antibiotics are currently used widely and irresponsibly in raising farm animals.  These antibiotics are meant for treating humans and this use in animals entering the food chain breeds antibiotic resistant bacteria that make people sick, and are much harder to recover from. We have been aware for quite sometime that this happens.  Fifteen years ago, when Flouroquinolone antibiotics which were meant for human consumption were approved for use in animals, physicians soon started seeing  Campylobacter strains causing human illness that were resistant to Fluoroquinolone treatment. The Food and Drug Administration understands that this is the case, the United States Department of Agriculture is aware of this. The Centers for Disease Control knows this. The World Health Organization knows this, and S.T.O.P. is frightened by this.

Why are antibiotics being misused to treat animals that aren’t necessarily sick?
Animals are now being given antibiotics not only to treat infection, but also to prophylactically resist infection. Or at least that’s what the food-animal production industry would like us to believe. Instead, antibiotics are being given to animals because it decreases the time that it takes some animals to be ready for slaughter. Antibiotics increase growth; this is good for the efficiency of meat production but horrible for human health.

Antibiotics that are given to animals that cause antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are a serious food safety problem. Salmonella and Campylobacter, frequently found in food products of animal origin, can be treated effectively with antibiotics. But when these same antibiotics used to treat sick humans are used to treat healthy animals, they breed resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria are a huge food safety concern because the uncooked meat that we bring into our homes from the grocery store can easily and accidentally enter the human body. I would like to be able to treat my kitchen as a kitchen rather than a biohazard zone, but bacteria can spread from shopping bags, plastic wrap from the meat packaging, countertops, cutting boards and from direct ingestion of undercooked or cross-contaminated food products.

As it is, it’s hard enough to keep bacteria from making us ill without the worry of antibiotic resistance. Coming down with a foodborne bacterial illness can be horrific enough, but not being able to be effectively treated by an antibiotic is just a senseless abuse of good medicine.  

At S.T.O.P. we have come across several families who have had a loved one infected with a foodborne bacterial illness that can not be treated by antibiotics.  It adds a whole new layer of complexity and frustration to an already negative situation.   We are a part of a coalition that is currently working on upcoming legislation that will address this issue.  To find out more about it and to get timely updates on recalls, outbreaks and food safety news delivered right to your email inbox, sign up for our S.T.O.P. E-alerts.  

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Are There Hidden E. coli Bacteria in Your Valentine's Day Dinner?

Imagine the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner…you and your sweetheart surrounded by hearts, flowers, music and romance at the fanciest restaurant in the city.  You’re eating a decadent beef dinner, complete with dessert and wine. It’s the perfect night with the one you love—until you realize you might be paying with your health as well as your money.

Many people have heard of E. coli 0157:H7, and know that it is a very harmful bacteria coming from cattle fecal contamination and that it should be tested for and kept out of food.  What they don’t know is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified six other sister strains of E. coli that have also been associated with foodborne illness and death.  These other strains are NOT labeled as adulterants by the USDA and are NOT a part of their testing program.  They could easily be lurking in your Valentine’s Day meal—or any of your other meals for that matter.

S.T.O.P.—Safe Tables Our Priority has worked with many families that have had loved ones get sick from the six other non-0157 strains of E. coli.  State health departments have been required to report cases of non-O157 strains to the CDC for 10 years, but these strains are still not tested for by the USDA in beef.  For years, S.T.O.P. has been asking USDA to have these non-0157 strains tested for in our nation’s food supply.

When I think of the people I have encountered through S.T.O.P. that have been sickened, or had a family member sickened by these other strains of E. coli, it astounds me that USDA has not started testing for them.  I have met people like S.T.O.P. member Dana Boner who lost her 14-year-old daughter Kayla to E. coli O111 in 2007.  She says that “USDA policy makes it impossible to find. You can’t find what you’re not looking for.  While it’s too late for Kayla, it’s not too late for others.”

This Valentine’s Day, the USDA should give the American public a life-saving gift:  declare other life-threatening strains of E. coli as adulterants in meat.  In the meantime, be mindful of what you eat and make sure your meat is properly cooked and handled before you and your sweetheart share a special Valentine’s Day meal. To receive timely information on food recalls and outbreaks to protect all of your loved ones, sign up for our S.T.O.P. E-alerts which are delivered right to your e-mail inbox.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Plenty of talk, not enough action

There has been a lot of food safety news and food safety talk recently, but very little meaningful action has taken place to protect consumers.  Awareness of food safety is important and we appreciate it, but if no action takes place then its value is lost. 

Recently, we wrote about the anniversary of the PCA peanut products outbreak that happened one year ago. Today, we received notice that 120 of the 700 victims who were sickened are receiving a settlement from PCA's insurance company. While nothing will ever take away the suffering these victims went through, this is still good news for them.  But what has really been done to prevent another outbreak like the PCA one from happening tomorrow?  As of right now, not a whole lot. 

S.T.O.P. has been working to help improve FDA reform legislation for the past year. There is a good, pending FDA reform bill in the Senate that needs to be passed NOW.  We are taking another group of victims of foodborne illness to Washington, DC next week to speak with members of Congress about getting the legislation passed.  We’ve gathered families sickened by Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella who contracted these bacteria from everyday foods such as spinach, cantaloupe, orange juice, peanut butter, cookie dough, cheese, and ice cream.

Add your voice to ours by contacting your senator now at and letting him or her know that S. 510, which is the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is important to you. To stay informed and better protect your family from contaminated products in the marketplace, sign up for S.T.O.P. E-alerts, which provide timely information on food recalls and outbreaks delivered right to your email inbox.