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The Four Years

Opinion

Perspective: Thinking about all the wonderful things I’ve done in the past four years and knowing that Linda will never have those experiences. Linda and I were hospitalized on the same day, with the same diagnosis, from the same product. Four years later I’m relatively healthy and she died, still suffering from a foodborne illness. That’s perspective.

Linda Rivera

I posted that on Facebook after Bill Marler wrote July 14 that Linda Rivera had died from E. coli O157:H7 the previous night. My Facebook friends immediately started posting things like “I’m so sorry to hear this.” I realized that people thought that Linda was my friend. The truth is: she wasn’t. In fact, we never met or even spoke. She may or may not have known who I was because of some of the media I did with food safety. So, why do I care that Linda died? Why have I thought about it every single day since? We are joined by a common single unfortunate thread:  In 2009, we were both sickened by E. coli O157:H7 in contaminated pre-packaged cookie dough. The outbreak, traced to the dough’s flour, sickened 80 people.

I spent almost a week in the hospital. They were long days and nights. The first few days were spent in horrible pain, without food and in isolation. That wasn’t the end. My senior year had lots of ups and downs and I ended up spending my birthday in the ER. A 21st birthday colonoscopy.  Not exactly what I had in mind for that birthday. I remember reading an article about Linda in the Washington Post. She had been in and out of the hospital for a year! I remember feeling so blessed and so lucky….and at the same time, a little guilty. That part hasn’t gone away.

But for me, time started passing again. I graduated college, worked as an au pair in Italy, moved to Atlanta, landed my dream first job, and did all those other things you do in your early twenties. I became involved in food safety, going to DC a few times and this year to Chicago. I’m a big advocate for the slow-moving FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.  It seemed I would Google Linda every year or so. I thought about connecting with her. I wish I had actually done that. In the past two years, I didn’t see much and I assumed that meant she was better.

So here I am: 24 and relatively healthy. In fact, most people in my “new life” don’t know about my brush with death. I can’t change the fact that I got better and I’ll never know exactly why I did and Linda didn’t. But here’s what I can do—and the part where you come in. We CAN stop this from happening again and again. We can and SHOULD speak for Linda. The CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. What can you and I do to make these numbers smaller? We can become involved in food safety organizations. We can write, call and visit our government officials.  We can make sure our friends are signed up for food recall e-mails. The list goes on and on.

Four years. Think about all you’ve done in the past four years…and let your congresspeople know about Linda’s past four years. Tell them how the implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and other protections could have given Linda Rivera four years and beyond.

Yes. I think that is perspective.

© Food Safety News
  • TP

    Food Companies release improperly inspected foods because of fishing buddy relationships.
    People die because of fishing buddy relationships.
    All the internal control documents all the safety meetings will not override the fishing buddy relationships.
    Example; “QA reports to the Plant Manager, now thank about it.” not all companies but enough.
    Example: “Do you actually believe that an auditor can come into a plant stay for one to three days and release a document that states you have a food safe plant. It’s like cleaning your house when you have the boss over for dinner”
    Forest Gump’s mother was right. .

    • Gary

      TP…you paint a broad brush across the food industry. I can tell you in my 15 years of experience in the food and dairy industry the attitude you mention within a company is dependent on the culture of the company. Yes, the culture is driven by the leadership from the top down, but that doesn’t mean every company has the “fishing buddy relationships”. I do confess I have been in a role where QA reported to Director of Operations which does not make the QA role very easy. There were times I had to stand my ground and basically say, “Either we do this, or I am no longer with the company.” It is sad that it can get to that point, but it takes a special person to do right by the public, the company, and the food they produce in their role in QA or Food Safety.

  • Riverdivine

    Thank you for your thoughtful, caring, and intelligent tribute to Linda- and for your important efforts to improve our collective food safety. You’re a special person. :)