I spent a week in the hospital with the fear of many things…


PATHOGEN: E. coli  |    SOURCE: Raw, Establishment Serving Food, Fresh + Frozen Produce

My family and I had a yearly tradition during the fall season to go to a local farm for hayrides through mazes, picking pumpkins, eating apples, cookies and cider. Sixteen of us went each year – 8 kids and 8 adults. All of us looked forward to this yearly trip.

Six years ago, this exciting time ended a few days after our trip as most of us became quite ill – and my daughter (who was 6 at the time) and I were rushed to the emergency room of our local hospital. My daughter was thankfully sent home, but I was diagnosed with E. coli O157:H7 (the worst form of E. coli). I spent a week in the hospital with the fear of many things. The pain in your stomach is like you were beaten up as thousands of sores roam your stomach.

The biggest fear for me, as all E. coli patients, is the chance it can affect your kidneys. As a 6-month survivor of a successful kidney transplant – the thought of this was devastating. How could this happen? How could the farm give out free samples without any signs that indicate (which, by law, it must on the container) “DO NOT DRINK THIS IF YOU ARE PREGNANT OR IMMUNE-SUPPRESSED”? Why isn’t this farm forced to have a sign alerting the unsuspecting public of the dangers?

Although I was only in the hospital for one week, the pain continued for months. But worse of all, the fear of contaminated foods has never left my mind. I was lucky though while I was recuperating to read about STOP (Safe Tables Our Priority). I read their web site and realized I was not alone but also how extremely fortunate I am that I did not die. STOP cares about people and what needs to be done to keep our families safe. STOP is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing illnesses and deaths caused by food contaminated with pathogens such as E. coliSalmonella, and Listeria. There are 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths per year (1999 estimates from the CDC: Wow.

My family and I no longer eat red meat – but instead watch our friends who do (especially undercooked meat) and think that it cannot happen to them and their families. I ask at restaurants to show me the labels of the juice they are serving and I am surprised to find in many cases that they are serving unpasteurized apple or orange juice. I ask restaurants if they have washed their vegetables – and they look at me, as if I am crazy.

So as I worry, and drive my family and friends crazy with my concerns about what they are eating, I wonder why the government, meat and produce agencies do not worry as they seem to be unconcerned about who is dying, who is suffering and what foods are contaminated.

Is the government caught up in a political frenzy and too caught up by lobbyists and these agencies, or is just too much money to make food safe and therefore reduce corporate profits? I wonder.

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