Severe illness gets U-M senior to lobby for food-safety bill

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Student's E. coli infection could have been deadly

Thursday, April 30, 2009


The Ann Arbor News

Lindsey Jennings woke up last Sept. 18 feeling a bit under the weather, as though she had a touch of the flu.

By the end of the day, the University of Michigan senior had been in two hospitals. She was doubled over with abdominal cramps so bad she couldn't move, and she was suffering violent vomiting and bloody diarrhea.

In the end, the E. coli she ingested, apparently from lettuce on a sandwich, kept her in the hospital for two weeks with a potentially deadly condition called pancolitis, or inflammation of the entire colon.

Jennings was lucky; she recovered and has her health back, though she is still anemic. But she should never have gotten so ill, she said, and tainted food should never have entered the food supply chain.

That's why she joined a group of other food-borne illness victims who traveled to Washington this week to lobby Congress to reform the nation's food safety laws.

"Not many people think about it,'' said Jennings, whose family lives in Rochester. "You get food poisoning, you get sick for a day and then you are fine. But I was in the hospital for two weeks, and it's something that is for the most part preventable. No one should have to go through that.''

The group of about two dozen people from all over the United States will be accompanied by officials from the Make Our Food Safe coalition, a conglomerate of organizations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and Consumer's Union.

The point, said Erik Olsen, director of food and consumer product safety for Pew, is to show lawmakers the faces behind the 76 million Americans who suffer food poisoning every year, 5,000 of whom die.

The trip coincides with the U.S. House committee's consideration of bill 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act. In overhauling current laws, created in 1906, it would step up inspections, enforcement and government authority.

And it comes after a series of food-borne illness outbreaks, from salmonella in peanut products and sprouts to E. coli in sprouts and on lettuce and tomatoes.

"These are not just numbers, these are families,'' Olsen said.

"Unfortunately, we are still operating under horse-and-buggy statutes,'' he said. "It really needs to be modernized.''



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