Let me take a heavy and ragged, but deep, breath here. This is not an easy subject to write about. Talking about it is even harder. This interview is about the needless death of children, and I can think of nothing in life that’s worse than watching your baby die.
From those supremely tragic events came an organization known as STOP. The letters stand for Safe Tables Our Priority. Numbered too heavily among its founders are people who have lost children to food borne illnesses.
Nancy Donley is one of them. She was a protective mother of young Alex, her only child. Some might have even called her ‘over-protective.’ But it didn’t matter. In the end, she lost her six-year old son to Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (H.U.S.) caused by eating an undercooked hamburger during a family picnic.
H.U.S. is a disease associated with Escherichia coli 0157:H7, a bacterium found in cattle feces. Estimates place E. coli infections at more than 70,000 people every year, mostly from eating tainted food such as raw field greens and undercooked ground beef. Healthy people usually survive after a bout of diarrhea, but up to 500 people don’t. They die a painful death and it is children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the chronically ill who are the most vulnerable because of their weaker immune systems.
STOP has been among the most vocal and influential groups demanding a stronger food safety system. Too often, though, they found their arguments thwarted by other groups whose special interests run counter to theirs. Recently, a confluence of food safety-related news stories made this interview an absolute necessity.
Here’s the list: A rash of food recalls leading into the always more dangerous summer months; the USDA’s announcement that ‘Test and Hold,’ an overdue industry-backed initiative, might finally attain regulatory status; the new food safety bill and the debate over its funding, the Tester amendment that frees small businesses from oversight – catch my drift?
Here is an interview that you should skip only if you don’t eat food.
Q. Let’s start by talking about STOP and its reason for being. Why was it founded and what is its goal?
A. STOP was founded in the aftermath of the 1992-93 West coast foodborne illness outbreak from E. coli O157:H7-contaminated hamburgers from a fast food restaurant chain. Over 700 people were sickened and a known four children died in this outbreak. This was the watershed event that catapulted the issue of food safety to national attention.