Friday, October 23, 2009

Food Poisoning Is Serious Business – People Become Disabled and Even Die

My life changed overnight in 1992 when my then-6-year-old daughter’s best friend Lauren was the first child to die from eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 in the Jack in the Box outbreak. You probably don’t know what it’s like to watch someone die from the E. coli pathogen, but it is excruciatingly horrible. Lauren’s mom confided in me how it was a blessing when she slipped into a coma because at least then she wasn’t screaming in pain.

Not only did my young daughter lose her best friend, we all lost our innocence. Until that moment, I had no idea that we are all playing a game of Russian Roulette with our food. Any one of us at any time could be feeding our families contaminated meats or vegetables or fruit. While paying attention to safe preparation and handling can help, we cannot totally scrub, disinfect or cook our way to safety – these pathogens are in the food, end of story. Our kitchens should not be biohazard zones.

How can it be that in the 21st century, living in the most scientifically advanced nation on earth, one in four people fall ill from foodborne illness every year? Quite simply, our regulatory system is not up to the job. Right now the FDA inspects domestic food facilities on average of once every 10 years. Imported products are only inspected at the rate of one percent a year.

To honor Lauren’s memory and the close to 5,000 Americans who die every year from largely preventable foodborne disease, I have become the executive director of S.T.O.P.- Safe Tables Our Priority,
a foodborne illness prevention and advocacy organization that works with hundreds of families every year who have lost loved ones due to tainted foods. We also support hundreds more who survived their initial illness, but are facing difficult long-term consequences.

You’ve seen the headlinesSalmonella-contaminated peanut butter, imported spices, sprouts, E.coli-laden meat, spinach, lettuce and cookie dough, Listeria-tainted deli meats, smoked fish and cheeses. And we’re not talking about a few days of problems – there can be serious long-term health effects, and people die.

That why it’s important to speak up, to share information and help the public understand that foodborne illness is serious. If you have a personal story, please share it with us at

In the meantime, you can keep up and best protect your family by signing up for S.T.O.P. E-alerts, which provides timely information delivered right to your email about current food recalls and outbreaks. Sign up here.

No comments:

Post a Comment