We started Food Safety News nearly three years to the day the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that a nationwide E. coli O157:H7 outbreak had been traced to spinach. I had filed suit against Dole several hours earlier, and it was several days later that the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the spinach responsible for the outbreak was Dole brand baby spinach.

In the end, 205 people became ill with E. coli and 5 died during the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak – an outbreak which was perhaps second only to the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak which resulted in over 650 E. coli cases and 5 deaths. 

What the spinach outbreak again underscored was the vulnerability of “the safest food supply in the world,” and how food that sustains us can also cause tragic illness with lasting consequences.

Of course, there have been many other foodborne illness outbreaks that have shaken the confidence of consumers. Too many of my clients’ stories have been seared in my memory – like the unnecessary death of a young child who drank Odwalla apple juice; the tragic death of Kevin Kowalcyk (10 years ago), Abby Fenstermaker’s life cut short at age 6; the dancing legs and quick wit of 20-year-old Stephanie Smith taken from her; the 2-year hospitalization of Linda Rivera, a mother of 6; and the last breath of a 2-year-old as a mother and father removed her from life support.

These were the tragedies, where are the heroes?
Without a doubt, the heroes have been in part the victims and their families. They have lived, or died, because of the simple act of eating or drinking. Those that were left are left facing consequences that no one could have imagined.

But, what control did they have over the losses? Don’t we expect that the food that we order at a restaurant or drop in our shopping cart will not be poisoned?

We learned in the last week, with the recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella that caused one death and at least 107 illnesses, and the recall of local strawberries sold at farmers markets, that we place much of our trust in the people that grow, manufacturer, ship, sell and prepare our food.
Readers, I want to ask you a favor, please.  If you were able to pick a food safety hero, who would it be?  Who is that someone who has tried to make our food supply safer?  What do you think they did of merit?
I ask you to think large.  Think not only of victims who taught us something through their tragedy, but also of the family members that make us all remember. Think also about the farmer, the broker, the shipper, the manufacturer or retailer, who thought more of their customers than their bottom line.  What about the academic?  What about the public servant? 

Who has tried to move food safety forward?  And, please, don’t think just like me – what bacteria or virus – can kill you in the short run; think also about sustainability, fairness toward labor and healthfulness.
Email the names to me at bmarler@marlerclark.com and tell me briefly why they are your heroes.  What the staff of Food Safety news will do over the next years is to profile the most suggested and glean from them something that can make our food supply safer.
Thank you for your help.