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FDA Uses Video Testimonials to Illustrate Consequences of Food Poisoning to Retailers

Series part of retail food safety training initiative

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration posted three videos featuring people affected by foodborne illness Wednesday in an effort to educate food retailers on the potentially devastating effects of an outbreak.

Two of the videos feature family members of Zella Ploghoft of Athens, Ohio, who died of complications from a Salmonella infection at age 82. The other features Bernadette Jacobs, a mother of three who describes how she almost lost her newborn daughter due to a Listeria infection she contracted while pregnant.

The videos were released as part of FDA’s Retail Food Safety Action Initiative, unveiled in September 2011, which aims to improve food safety at the retail level through local food codes and training for employees.

“Less than 10 minutes each, the videos educate retail and foodservice employees on the possible, dire consequences of poor preparation practices and provide tips to prevent foodborne illness,” said FDA in a press release Wednesday.

In the first video, Zella Ploghoft’s son Philip Ploghoft and daughter Shelly Cooper recount their mother’s experience with Salmonella and discuss the difficulty of life without her. 

“It was like a bad dream that just didn’t end,” says Shelly. “Something would happen and then something else would happen. But the one thing that was constant was that she had severe abdominal pain from the day she got sick until the day she died, and nothing relieved it.”

Zella spent seven weeks in the hospital before she died from complications of her infection.

The outbreak that affected Zella and 55 other people was traced to chili rellenos served at a Mexican restaurant in Athens where she and her family ate the day before she fell ill. Zella’s son Philip shared a meal with her, a dish called the “special dinner for two.” He too contracted a Salmonella infection, but recovered. 

“Everybody dies, but it wasn’t her time, and that’s what made it so hard,” says Shelly, tearing up. “To this day, something will happen and I can’t call mom and then I remember she’s gone.”

At the end of the video, Philip offers some advice to viewers: “If I were going into a food service operation, I would say it’s really not that hard to serve safe food… I know they get hurried. Don’t be hurried. That should be on the wall. Do it right. If they don’t know how to do it right they really should learn how to do it right before they handle food.”

“They were terribly crowded. It was mother’s day weekend,” recounts Milton, Zella’s husband, of the conditions at the Mexican restaurant.

“Part of the frustration with food poisoning is that you know it didn’t have to happen,” says Milton, who is interviewed in the second movie. “That’s the thing that is really stressful. That you know it didn’t have to happen.”

Bernadette Jacobs recounts her experience with a Listeria infection, which she contracted in her 32nd week of pregnancy.

Her daughter Kate was delivered via C-section as a result of the infection, which was traced back to a sandwich from a restaurant where Jacobs and her family had bought food to-go.

After she was born, Kate began a fight for her life. She had developed bacterial meningitis in utero, and both mother and daughter eventually developed sepsis.

“We didn’t think she’d live hour to hour,” recalls Bernadette of the days following Kate’s birth. “I felt awful. I felt absolutely awful. My baby was dying. They gave us about a 15 percent chance that she would make it at all, and even if she did the outlook was grim. She was supposed to be a quadriplegic, she was supposed to never function. She was supposed to be brain dead.”

After another setback, Kate finally recovered, but has been left with a series of developmental challenges because of her infection.

“We don’t know that we’re not going to end up (in the hospital) next month,” says Bernadette. “Every day we’re lucky to have Kate the way she is.”

Bernadette still has scar tissue in her lungs and problems with her pancreas.

“Who knew that food poisoning could cause it? Who knew? I had no idea that getting a takeout sandwich could’ve changed my life,” she says.

Bernadette’s advice to food service workers is to keep food at a proper temperature and not to serve food that’s past its expiration date.

“There’s no keeping it longer to stop waste in your restaurant,” she says. “There’s no saving a few extra dollars. You can kill someone. You can absolutely make someone so sick from food poisoning that they will die.”

At the end of the videos, FDA reminds its audience that “Their safety is in your hands.”

The agency also provides a list of good practices for food handlers to reduce the risk of serving contaminated food. These include:

- Washing hands and food contact surfaces often

- Not working when you are sick

- Not touching ready-to-eat food with your bare hands

- Separating raw meals from other foods

- Cooking to the correct temperature

- Cooking the food promptly

- Maintaining food at the proper temperature and time 

Marler Clark, the Food Safety Law Firm and the underwriter for Food Safety News, represented the Ploghoft family.

© Food Safety News