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SafeFood© Blog – What happened 15 Years Ago?

Today’s entry is for those of a certain age: mature adults, boomers and Gen Xer's as many of you may remember that in 1993, there was national interest in an outbreak of E. Coli O157:H7. This outbreak led to major changes in meat inspections and meat processing regulations. The outbreak at Jack-in- the-Box restaurants was a national wake-up call about the devastating impacts of foodborne illness –four young children died from eating hamburgers that were not cooked to a high enough temperature to kill this strain of the bacteria. We grieved with the families of those who died or who suffered life-altering health, and thought “wow, it could have been me”. The young children were most affected because their immune systems were less developed than the adults who had also eaten the same product. The outbreak awakened the country to hidden dangers, and raised awareness of the need to ensure safe food along the food chain.

Real progress has been made in the last 15 years in raising awareness by industry, employees, food producers, processors, government regulators, and consumers about the importance of food safety and proper sanitation. Brave parents of young children who have died due to negligence and priorities of greed over best practice have advocated for tighter controls. Much research, at all links of the food chain, has been conducted. Ideally, research is used in making decisions regarding policies about food production, processing and service regulations.

I am not so naïve that I don’t realize that occasionally greed trumps safety or that politics rather than sound science come into play as part of determining regulations, but generally, I do trust the food supply in the U.S. I personally have no qualms about food items I purchase. But I am vigilant and aware. The price I pay is getting teased (or eye rolls from my family) about having OCD and being overly picky. Small price as I am not much of a risk taker. Those of you whom have traveled elsewhere may have your own stories to tell about food practices – one of mine is the vision of whole chickens for sale hung at tents in market places of hot and humid climates (No sale to this customer).

Reported outbreaks suggest the last links in the food chain are the highest risk – so we ALL must be vigilant at home, and away from home, about taking action steps to minimize this risk. Speak up if you see an unsanitary practice (such as food handlers licking their fingers or not washing their hands). Be a SafeFood© Advocate - for yourself and your family. As the popular song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young goes: Teach your children well. Hopefully 15 years from today, in 2023, outbreaks of foodborne illnesses will be a thing of the past. The first three people to email me at our ISU Extension Food Safety Project (cstrohbe@iastate.edu) with a comment about this blog will receive a SafeFood© Advocate packet.

Submitted by Catherine Strohbehn, January 28, 2008