From Farm Gate to Dinner Plate, Fifty Years of Food Safety Failures
Salmonella in eggs. Listeria in deli meats. Melamine in milk. Cyclospora in lettuce.
In a world where irrigation water is contaminated by run-off from cattle feedlots and where food processors cut corners, the food preparation skills we learned from our parents and grandparents are no longer good enough to keep us safe.
Using a variety of foodborne disease outbreaks, often illustrated with the stories of individual victims, TAINTED explores the ways in which food becomes contaminated. Some of the stories – such as the deadly 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak – will be very familiar. Others will not.
In this update to her 2007 book, Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives, Phyllis Entis draws on nearly five decades of experience to explain how our regulatory systems have failed us, and to talk about what can be done to protect consumers from unsafe food.
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A Short Excerpt
Chapter 3 – Betrayal
Sarah Lewis and her entire family attended a celebratory dinner at a local restaurant on May 29, 2010 to mark her sister Stacey’s college graduation. The next night, Sarah’s world turned upside down.
Already feeling unwell on the evening of May 30th, Sarah went to bed early. She awakened during the night, suffering from vomiting and severe diarrhea. The next day, Sarah’s mother, who lived nearby, took her to an urgent care facility. Twenty minutes later, she was admitted to hospital and was later diagnosed with salmonellosis.
Badly dehydrated and in enormous pain from her inflamed bowels, Sarah was moved to the hospital’s ICU. While there, she developed severe tachycardia (abnormally rapid heartbeat), and was moved to the critical care heart unit, where she spent three days.
When Sarah was finally discharged in time to attend her daughter’s preschool graduation, she thought the worst was behind her.
About 2½ weeks later, she was back in the hospital, still suffering from severe dehydration. She was released after five days.
The antibiotics Sarah took to combat her Salmonella infection stripped her digestive system of its normal population of protective bacteria, resulting in her becoming infected with Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a bacterium which causes severe diarrhea and cramping. A fourteen-day antibiotic regimen took care of the C. diff; however, the Salmonella was more resilient. Four months later, Sarah still was on five to ten different medications daily to combat the infection and control her symptoms.
Sarah Lewis was the first recorded California victim of a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak that sickened more than 1,900 people across the United States.
The restaurant where Stacey’s graduation banquet was held had purchased custard tarts from a local bakery. Ordinarily, the bakery used a pasteurized liquid egg mixture to make the tarts. However, on the day they prepared the dessert items for the graduation dinner, the bakery ran out of pasteurized egg mix and used fresh, raw shell eggs instead. Eggs that most likely had come from Iowa.
About the Author
A graduate of McGill University and the University of Toronto, Phyllis Entis received her introduction to the field of food safety at the hands of Canada’s Health Protection Branch, where she spent the first seven years of her professional life immersed in Salmonella, Staphylococcus, E. coli and other bad actors from the microbial world.
Entis left government work to co-found (with her husband) QA Life Sciences, a company specializing in rapid testing methods for foodborne bacteria. For the next twenty-two years, she worked closely with representatives of Health Protection Branch, the US Food and Drug Administration and various state agencies to gain official sanction for the use of rapid testing methods in government and industry settings.
In 2001, Entis turned to writing. Her first book, Food Microbiology—The Laboratory, was published in 2002 by the Food Processors Institute. It was followed five years later by Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives, which was released by the American Society for Microbiology Press in January 2007.
Since 2007, Entis has written about food safety issues for several publications, including Food Safety News, The Bark, and eFoodAlert. She has also found the time to write and release a 6-book mystery series, The Damien Dickens Mysteries.
In TAINTED, Entis has combined her decades of experience with the story-telling skills honed during her career as a mystery writer to revamp and update the wealth of information contained in Old Habits, and to produce a food safety narrative that is both educational and accessible.
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Elegy for a victim of Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter
The February 2009 House Oversight Committee testimony of Lou Tousignant, son of one of the Peanut Corporation of America outbreak victims, was a prophetic and heart-wrenching plea for change—a plea which has not been answered fully to this day:
“Please do your job. Do not let us be back here next year or the year after experiencing the same thing. Companies like PCA who make our food should have rules that they live by. Companies should be inspected more than once every five years. Companies should not be allowed to shop around for lab results. Companies like King Nut should not be allowed to slap a label on a product they received from a factory that they no (sic) nothing about, never visited, nor never (sic) inspected. The FDA should also have the right to recall contaminated food themselves and not wait for the companies to do so.
“My father was a good man. He fought for his country. He died because he ate peanut butter.”