Person of Influence | February 2016

Spend a Moment with Ken Koehler

What do you remember about your illness?
I remember it like it was yesterday. It started as an upset stomach that progressively got worse. Then came the diarrhea, followed a couple hours later by intense vomiting.  I remained curled up on the bathroom floor for the next 36 hours not knowing what was happening to me. I was taken to the emergency room and was taken right in. I was given 3 liter bags of IV solution just to rehydrate me. They wanted a stool sample, which was just blood at this point. It was the testing of this that showed the antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella I contracted from ground beef I handled a week earlier. The CDC did a good job helping me remember the ground beef I bought. The CDC seized the 2 remaining pounds I had in the freezer. These packages tested positive and [the store where I purchased the meat] issued a recall. It has been a slow road to recovery.

How does your experience shape the way you think about food today?
Before being ill, I didn’t think it was possible to get sick the way I did. I really thought the government was watching our back when it came to food safety.  What I discovered, coupled with the education I received from STOP Foodborne Illness, opened my eyes as to the scary reality of how our food is processed and sold to us. The supermarket couldn’t tell me where the meat that sickened me came from. I make sure I know where my food comes from today.

Why did you get involved with STOP Foodborne Illness?
Through some extreme diligence on the part of Stanley, he was able to reach out and contact me. By this time, I was frustrated in the lack of information on how I got sick. Stanley provided me with links and information telling me I wasn’t alone and this type of illness is happening more and more. Stanley and STOP arranged with Pew Charitable Trusts to send me to Washington, DC, and get before my state senators encouraging them to pass a bill to stop feeding antibiotics to healthy animals. STOP provided me with an amazing opportunity and education.

Talk about something you think everyone should know about food safety.
Don’t rely solely on the FDA to make sure your food is safe. They are a government agency with limited resources. Become educated, know where your food comes from. Buying from local farms helps your local economy, and in my opinion provides a safer product. (The meat that made me sick couldn’t be traced, so now I buy local meat and I know where it comes from.)  Always be food safe at home. Support organizations like STOP Foodborne Illness.

What’s happening in your life right now?
I am involved in a number of youth non-profit organizations. I started my own youth non-profit a couple of years ago. “Turnbuckle Youth Program” takes young men and women, 14 – 18 years old, on 1-2 week sailing tours. Small groups spend their time living and sailing along Maine’s coast learning various aspects of the maritime industries.

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