food safety education month

Statistics never account for the trauma or years of suffering that follow foodborne illnesses. While here, at Food Safety News, we try to keep you informed of the numbers, the recalls, and the science, we also recognize that the most important aspect of food safety is protecting lives.

How do we grab people’s attention and make them invest in learning and understanding food safety? By showing them the personal stories of those who have been affected.

Jaime Ragos

“You feel the impact when you talk to someone about these stories, you feel the hurt and pain,” 2019-2021 Dave Theno Fellow Jaime Ragos told Food Safety News. “I know for me, the biggest one is whenever I hear about a mother miscarrying a child from Listeria. It could have happened 20 years ago, and they still feel the pain of losing that child.”

Dave Theno knew this. It was a child victim that changed his life and led him to devote his life to food safety.

Dave Theno

Theno was a senior vice president and chief food safety officer for Jack-in-the-Box in 1993, hired after the fast-food chain was reeling from a massive and deadly outbreak of E. coli O157:H7. Four children died in that outbreak which had more than 600 victims confirmed infected from undercooked hamburgers. Most of the victims were young children. Many of them were left with serious, lifelong complications that required ongoing medical treatment.

One of the victims was 9-year-old Lauren Beth Rudolph. She died in her mother’s arms Dec. 28, 1992. Theno carried a photo of Lauren Beth in his wallet from 1993 until he died in 2017, when a rogue wave hit him while swimming in Hawaii.

Lauren Beth Rudolph

Lauren Rudolph’s impact on Dave Theno lives on today through the Theno Food Safety Fellowship. The Fellowship provides an opportunity for a young food scientist to work with the Stop Foodborne Illness organization’s professionals and to learn from members of the extended STOP community about the real-world health consequences of failures in food safety. STOP is a public health non-profit organization, which, since 1994, has focused efforts on telling the “why” of food safety with personal stories. 

The fellowship includes housing, pay and benefits; and it requires that the fellow work full time for STOP and complete a 12-credit Online Food Safety Certificate program with Michigan State University (MSU).

The 2019-2021 Dave Theno Food Safety Fellow, Jaime Ragos, had a unique multi-disciplined undergraduate experience that made her an ideal fellow recipient — working in research programs at the University of Tennessee’s Department of Nutrition, the Department of Food Science and Technology, and the Department of Food Science and Technology. She also participated in research at the Smith International Center in Guatemala and at the North Carolina State University in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Science.

While working as a fellow with STOP, Ragos wanted to understand the personal costs of neglecting food safety. So with MSU, she created a graduate course for MSU’s online food safety program focused specifically on developing a food safety culture. During the class she brought in food poisoning victims to talk about their experiences.

“It puts a face to the statistics,” Ragos said. “It really puts a face to all the pain and suffering that someone has gone through. In our course, we interviewed one man who got listeria from a frozen dairy product. And now, he sees his life as pre-illness and post-illness. Because now he’s self-conscious about his speech, because he struggles with talking now, and it takes him a lot longer to walk.”

Ragos hopes that sharing these stories will lead to an improved food safety culture, in which individuals and companies are committed to food safety because they know the impact it has on people’s lives.

Ragos is now heading to Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar. She is currently applying to medical schools.

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