“I want other kids and everyone to feel that our food is safe when we go to restaurants or grocery stores.”
This is not a common mission for most 15-year-olds, but it is for Rusty Brown.
And here’s why:
About 10 years ago when Rusty was in kindergarten, he and his family ventured out one evening to enjoy a nice dinner together. They ordered the family meal that included a lettuce salad.
Salads are typically a healthy food choice that parents are more than pleased to see their kids nosh on when they’re just five. But, this salad was unfortunately not a healthy one: The lettuce that Rusty ate that day had E. coli O157:H7 lurking in it.
After coming home from dinner, Rusty felt very sick.
Right away he began suffering from severe stomach aches that caused violent episodes of vomiting. Concerned, Rusty’s mom, Charlene, took him in for a visit with his pediatrician. The doctor examined Rusty but told Charlene that her son just had a stomach bug—nothing serious to worry about.
If only that were the case.
Upon returning home from the doctor, Rusty collapsed. Charlene rushed Rusty to the hospital where tests soon revealed that he had contracted one of the most serious strains of food poisoning— E. coli O157:H7.
While at the hospital, the terror that Rusty went through remains crystal clear in his mind. “Even though I was only a kindergartener, I vividly remember the shots, the pain and the fear my parents had in their eyes. I’ve been through several scary moments in my life, but this is, by far, the scariest time I remember,” says Rusty.
After spending five harrowing days in the hospital, Rusty returned home and went back to school.
Now, 10 years later, rather than simply trying to forget his frightening foodborne illness, Rusty feels compelled to help others avoid the same fate.
After learning about Rusty’s experience, STOP asked if he’d be willing to take to the podium in Portland, OR to share his story and testify at a the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) meeting. He enthusiastically accepted and, during his speech, Rusty gave poignant remarks that really struck a chord with everyone who heard him.
Rusty was happy to participate and something unexpected happened: Rusty realized that speaking about his food poisoning experience was much easier than he had imagined. And he really enjoyed the opportunity to help others with his words.
So, coming as a surprise to Rusty, that day out in Portland turned him into one of STOP’s newest food safety advocates. He is now at the top of STOP’s call list for speaking and advocacy opportunities. (Rusty’s comments from the FDA FSMA meeting in Portland, OR)
And, when the chance came up recently to speak for a special college prep class, Rusty knew what topic he’d want to cover.
He quickly got to work developing some thoughts about how he got food poisoning, what he went through and how consumers can play an important part in preventing it. It’s a speech that he’s also planning to use soon for kids at the middle school where his mom works.
When he’s not on the speaking circuit, Rusty enjoys life as a sophomore at Steele Canyon High School near his home in Alpine, CA, a suburb of San Diego. He loves math, and you can find him playing guitar, running cross-country and hanging out with friends and family in his spare time.
“Life is good and I’m really happy that my foodborne illness didn’t cause any long-term health consequences. But I know things could have been much worse,” notes Rusty. “That’s why I’m so passionate about telling my story. Kids and adults alike need to know how easy it can be to get food poisoning and ways they can prevent it.”
Advocacy is at the heart of how we’re able to bring about positive change in food policy that helps prevent foodborne illness and save lives.
If you’re interested in becoming more involved with STOP’s advocacy efforts, please contact Stanley Rutledge, Director of Constituent Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know and take next steps. We’d love to hear from you.
The mission of Stop Foodborne Illness is to:
Support and engage people directly impacted by foodborne illness and mobilize them to help prevent illness and death by driving change through advocacy, collaboration and innovation.