For those who have not walked the halls of Congress trying to get politicians to pay attention to real issues, you may not appreciate what seven of your fellow citizens did this past week. However, I have and I do – and we all should appreciate what these people, my former clients and friends, did for all of us.
Each of them took time out of their lives to travel to Washington, D.C., to tell their own or a family member’s story about what can happen to food production when industry gets it wrong and government does not have the power or money for oversight.
So who were these people who represented us in the halls of power?
Kelly was part of a 2008 Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak that sickened several people and put her in the hospital for more than a week when she developed hemolytic uremic syndrome and incurred more than $125,000 in medical bills. All of this occurred while her husband was fighting in Iraq and she had responsibility for two small children.
Paul is the son of his namesake. His father, Paul, was an active, spry 92-year-old who loved to golf and loved his wife Rosellen. The elder Paul earned two purple hearts in WWII and died after eating a U.S.-grown cantaloupe from Colorado in 2011 that was contaminated with Listeria. He died an agonizing death two months after eating the tainted fruit and after incurring nearly $200,000 in medical expenses. Paul was one of 33 people included in the largest foodborne illness death toll in the U.S. in more than 50 years.
Angela is the mother of Mariah and Celia, who both suffered Salmonella infections in 2012 in yet another cantaloupe outbreak – this time from Indiana. Although their medical bills were “only” $25,000, the children’s’ illnesses took a toll on the entire family.
Merrill was part of a nationwide Listeria outbreak linked to imported cheese. Eventually the number of ill persons would hit 22, with four deaths, including a baby. Merrill was lucky to survive, but spent weeks in the hospital and days in ICU and incurred $60,000 in medical expenses.
Gabrielle has been an advocate on behalf of her son Chris, who was one of hundreds sickened – including nine reported deaths – in the 2009 Peanut Corporation of America Salmonella outbreak.
Peter is the male version of Gabrielle. Peter, a Portland cop, was outraged when he learned that Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter crackers that he and his wife had been feeding his three-year-old son were making him ill.
Ken is the son-in-law of Ruby, who needlessly died after eating E. coli-tainted spinach in the 2006 outbreak that sickened more than 200 people and killed five. Although 81 years old at the time of her death, she was active and healthy. Ruby’s medical bills neared $100,000 as she struggled through the very painful last days of her life.
Although Kelly, Paul, Angela, Merrill, Gabrielle, Peter and Ken are unique in the fact that they have turned tragedy into action, they are not unique in the fact that they truly represent what goes on every day in the U.S. CDC says that 48 million of us become sick each year due to the food that we eat and that 125,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. This should be unacceptable to our politicians; it should be unacceptable to all of us.
Thankfully, we have Kelly, Paul, Angela, Merrill, Gabrielle, Peter and Ken representing us. We all owe them a thank-you.© Food Safety News