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The Battle of Over Raw Milk Heats Up
Posted on July 1, 2010 by Bill Marler
Food Safety Advocate Bill Marler educates the public about the potentially deadly risks of drinking raw milk
The debate over raw milk is heating up. Advocates of the fresh-from-the-farm, raw dairy product, claim that it is rich in disease-fighting nutrients, which they believe are lost in the pasteurization process. Meanwhile, the United States government and food safety advocates, including Bill Marler, remain firm in their scientifically viable stance that raw milk¡¯s dangers outweigh any believed benefits.
Bill Marler, who started his crusade for food safety as the lead attorney for victims of the Jack in the Box Outbreak in 1993, has turned much of his attention to the dangers of raw milk. ¡°Through my experience I have found that raw milk produced in small dairy farms is unavoidably contaminated,¡± said Marler. ¡°We need to make sure milk goes through pasteurization so we don¡¯t risk our children¡¯s health.¡±
Pathogens like Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli O157:H7 that are originally contained in the manure of an infected animal, can contaminate raw milk and the products that are made from it due to unclean udders, milking equipment, or a generally unsanitary milking environment. Pasteurization is the only way to ensure that these dangerous bacteria do not contaminate products that will be consumed raw.
It is already illegal to sell raw milk in 28 states, but a small, yet passionately devoted raw milk following is trying to loosen the states¡¯ regulatory grip in spite of the long history of outbreaks associated with the product. ¡°I cringe at the anti-science blather protesting that all outbreaks linked to raw milk never happened, or were caused by something else, or were part of some dark conspiracy designed to discredit what is really a wonder-product,¡± said Marler. ¡°The truth is these outbreaks do happen, including 10 since January alone.¡±
The outbreaks that Marler references have occurred in 9 different states, including Washington, Utah, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. Washington and Utah have each seen two raw milk outbreaks since the beginning of the year. Health officials from the affected states have counted over 50 confirmed illnesses from infection by Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter, and one victim of the Pennsylvania outbreak developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) and is still hospitalized.
In March, the debate boiled over in our nation¡¯s ¡°dairy state¡± when a hearing turned into a rally on the Raw Milk Act. While it was eventually vetoed, this bill in the Wisconsin Legislature would have allowed the state¡¯s dairy farmers to sell raw milk directly to consumers.
Marler was one of several concerned food safety advocates and industry representatives who had who consulted with Wisconsin¡¯s governor about the bill.
Marler¡¯s crusade against raw milk is personal ? he never again wants to see a client like Chris Martin, who, at age seven, developed an infection from exposure to E. coli O157:H7 that almost took his life after he drank raw milk.
In addition to his influence on the Wisconsin bill, Marler played a similar role in convincing the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenager, to veto a bill that would have liberalized the production and sale of raw milk.
But Marler sees that the problem is much bigger than proposed bills in a couple of states. ¡°A level of education needs to happen. There is so much misinformation about the benefits of raw milk?it¡¯s been touted as a cure-all for everything from allergies to asthma. This is simply not true and whatever possible good comes from raw milk is greatly outweighed by the fact that it can kill you.¡±
This spring, Marler helped spearhead the collaborated launch of (, a new website that reveals the benefits as well as the risks of consuming raw milk, and gives up-to-the-minute coverage on all raw milk-related news, including contamination outbreaks and related recalls. Marler collaborated with scientists, food safety advocates and health educators from university, government, industry, and professional organizations, on the website¡¯s content. The site provides clarity on evidence-based studies, presentations, commentaries, regulations, and position statements on the beverage and its use.
Marler also launched the Foodborne Illness Outbreak Database (, a web-based, searchable database of illness outbreaks caused by consumption of contaminated food or water, exposure to animals, or contact with persons ill with a food or waterborne disease. The site includes outbreaks related to raw milk, and provides comprehensive details, including the dairies or farms that sold the product.
¡°Consumers need outbreak information available to them so they can make informed decisions about what they eat and drink, in the case of raw milk. Businesses that poison their customers need to have a light shone on them so both policy makers and other business can learn from the mistakes¡±, said Marler, ¡°Our free market does not function if information about the safety of our food is hidden from us.¡±

Raw Milk Consumers: 'Don't Turn Us Into Criminals'
by Cookson Beecher | Jul 02, 2010
'Don't turn us into criminals' raw milk consumers plead in suit against interstate ban
Raw milk consumers have joined forces in a legal battle against the federal Food and Drug Administration's ban against the sale and distribution of raw milk and raw milk products (pdf) for human consumption across state lines.
The focus on consumers, not farmers, is one of the distinctive features of the lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund against FDA and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Virginia-based organization filed the suit in February in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Iowa, on behalf of its national membership base and in conjunction with 10 other plaintiffs--consumers and a dairy farmer from six different states. Two of the plaintiffs live in Iowa.
All of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit live in states where raw milk--milk that hasn't been pasteurized to kill potentially harmful or deadly pathogens--is not allowed to be sold: Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, and New Jersey.
According to the legal papers filed by the Fund, the plaintiffs buy their raw milk in states just across the border where raw milk sales are allowed. But in doing that, they're breaking the law when they bring the milk back home with them.
"Ultimately, this is a consumer-driven issue," Pete Kennedy, a Florida attorney who serves as president of the Fund, told Food Safety News in a phone interview on June 28. "We want to help consumers go across state lines to buy raw milk and return home with it without being worried that they're committing a crime."
For Kennedy, and raw milk advocates across the nation, the important issue in this is the freedom of choice.
"We believe consumers have the right to obtain what they want to eat and drink from the sources they choose," he said.
One of the legal flash points in this controversy is FDA's definition of milk that's involved in interstate commerce.
According to the agency's "standard of identity for milk," milk is "the lacteal secretion . . . . obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows" that "in the final package form for beverage use shall have been pasteurized or ultra pasteurized."
In other words, milk involved in interstate commerce that hasn't been pasteurized but is sold as milk for human consumption is misbranded, which is a violation of federal law.
Kennedy said the plaintiffs in this case want the court to rule that FDA's regulations pertaining to the interstate ban of raw milk for human consumption are illegal when applied to them so that they may "travel across state lines with legally obtained raw dairy products."
They're also fighting for what they believe is their constitutional right to provide for the care and well-being of themselves and their families and to produce, obtain, and consume the foods of their choice.
Kennedy said the plaintiffs are seeking a ruling that the interstate ban is unconstitutional, or an excess of FDA's regulatory powers, in the way it has been applied to them.
"They're not saying it should be struck down," he said.
But when looking ahead, Kennedy readily said that if the court rules in the plaintiffs' favor, it would "hopefully, open the door for thousands of other consumers across the nation who have to go across state lines to buy raw milk."
"Hopefully, it would set a precedent," he said.
Twenty-eight states currently allow the intrastate sale of raw milk, although with varying restrictions.
Not surprisingly, the two federal agencies fired back against the Fund's lawsuit, asking the court to dismiss it.
The agencies' reasons for doing so left many raw milk advocates in what could be described as a state of shock infused with outrage, with some contending that the FDA wants control over everything a person or family eats.
In its legal papers to the court (pdf), the federal agencies assert and give reasons why, contrary to contentions in the lawsuit, there's no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food; there is no generalized right to bodily and physical health; and there is no fundamental right to freedom of contract.
"FDA's goals in regulating the interstate sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk are manifestly appropriate, and the regulations that FDA adopted are an undeniably rational way of pursuing them," say the agencies in the motion to dismiss.
But that's not the way Eric Wagoner, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, sees it.
The owner as well as a member of an Internet-based "virtual farmers market" known as "Athens Locally Grown," which is based in Georgia, Wagoner lives in Georgia close to the South Carolina border.
At the time he submitted his affidavit to the court last fall, approximately 2,000 members of Athens Locally Grown placed orders for products listed by 100 farmers on the organization's site. Some of the members and farmers live in Georgia; some live in neighboring South Carolina.
According to his affidavit, on Oct. 15, 2009, one of the organization's volunteers drove Wagoner's delivery truck from South Carolina, where raw milk is allowed to be sold in stores, to Georgia where raw milk sales are banned.
Of the 110 gallons of raw milk the truck was carrying, two of the gallons were Wagoner's.
Upon reaching Georgia, the truck was searched and seized by officials from Georgia without a warrant. They also embargoed the raw milk in the truck without a search warrant, the affidavit says.
But Wagoner was allowed to drive his truck and its contents to his home, where it was parked until Oct. 19.
On Oct. 19, the 110 gallons of raw milk were destroyed at the order of the Georgia officials and of the FDA without a warrant or other legal process, according to Wagoner's affidavit.
His affidavit names Marybeth Willis from the FDA's Atlanta office as the FDA agent who ordered him to destroy the milk.
The milk dumping was video taped in two parts, with Willis identified in the first video.
Wagoner said that Willis told him that if you go to a dairy to buy raw milk for your own use and bring it back to your own home in Georgia, you would be a federal criminal.
Wagoner doesn't feel like a criminal. Instead, he sees himself as the owner and a member of a non-profit that helps consumers obtain healthy, locally grown food and milk.
In his case, the FDA's stance on interstate sales and distribution of raw milk just doesn't make sense.
In an email to Food Safety News, he said that while FDA has declared that raw milk is inherently unsafe, the lawmakers in South Carolina recognize that it's not the milk, itself, but certain bacteria and other contaminants that are unsafe.
Pointing out that raw milk is available in grocery stores in South Carolina, Wagoner said South Carolina officials are "comfortable in allowing this because raw milk is highly regulated" in that state.
He told Food Safety News that he believes people have the right to cross state lines to buy raw milk because the federal government has not been given the constitutional authority to set up "customs inspections" at state boundaries.
"In my case, I had legally purchased an item available off the shelf at regular grocery stores, approved by both the state of South Carolina and the USDA, crossed a bridge, and returned home," he said.
Wagoner said FDA then came to his house and ordered that his own personal milk in his own personal refrigerator be destroyed, without a warrant, a court order, or compensation.
He also pointed out that he did not cross state lines to buy milk for anyone but himself. The dairies sold the milk to the other members of his organization before it got picked up.
"Every gallon that was picked up was sold prior to it getting picked up, and every gallon had a person's name attached to it," he said. "Never was a drop of milk taken across states lines to be sold by myself, the dairy, or anyone else involved."
In its June 21 reply in support of the motion to dismiss the case, the federal government describes Wagoner's allegations that he destroyed the raw milk inside his house under orders from the FDA as "bizarre."
"Because Mr. Wagoner's 'alleged facts' are nothing more than unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences and sweeping legal conclusions, this court is not required to accept them as true," says the agencies' motion to dismiss.
On a more technical matter, the agencies are asking the court to dismiss the case for the suit's failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
"Had FDA actually ordered the destruction of the milk as alleged, the proper venue in which to object would have been in the seizure action itself, wherein Mr. Wagoner would have had an opportunity to appear as a claimant and to have a full hearing before the court."
That gets Wagoner's goat.
"It's undeniable that government agents came to my house and ordered me to destroy the milk," he said. "Now the FDA is claiming that's not the case."
In all of the legal twists and turns in this case, the federal government does offer a possible way for the interstate raw milk ban to be re-evaluated.
Pointing out that the parties in the case didn't exhaust their "administrative remedies," the agencies say that filing a citizen petition with the FDA is required before any legal action is filed in a court.
"In bypassing the administrative process, plaintiffs have precluded meaningful and efficient review," says the motion to dismiss.
The motion to dismiss goes on to say that requiring plaintiffs to submit a citizen petition to FDA before seeking judicial review "would allow FDA to consider and address plaintiffs' concerns and could potentially resolve those concerns, or at the very least, the administrative process might crystalize the issues in contention."
But Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund told Food Safety News that FDA has not yet responded to a citizen petition that California raw milk producer Mark McAfee filed on Feb. 22, 2008.
In that petition, McAfee asked FDA to allow the interstate shipment of raw dairy products between two different states in the U.SA. that both allow the legal sale of raw dairy products.
In his affidavit submitted to the court as part of the suit against the federal government, McAfee said that as of June 7, 2010, more than 500 days later, FDA hadn't responded to the petition even though the agency is generally required to respond to a citizen petition in 180 days.
For that reason, McAfee believes that filing a citizen petition is futile.
Kennedy agrees, saying that the FDA has a "closed mind on this and refuses to debate people on this issue."
"It would be completely futile to go through an administrative action," he said. "We already know what they'll say."
Even so, McAfee told Food Safety News that he sees some hopeful signs on the horizon.
"The times, they are a changin,'" he said. "And the more we go forward, the more we realize that man has messed with Mother Nature and made quite a mess. Quickly . . . we must recognize the errors and return to whole unprocessed foods. Raw milk is leading the way."
Food safety attorney Bill Marler agrees with McAfee that the times are always changing. But he has a an opposing view on this particular issue.
"One change is the public wants more protection from unsafe milk, not less," Marler said. "That's why Congress has instructed the FDA to keep raw milk out of interstate commerce. This is an example of why the Interstate Commerce Clause is in the U.S. Constitution. I do not see the federal courts changing that."
In enacting the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Congress directed the FDA to "protect the public health by ensuring that foods are safe, wholesome, sanitary, and properly labeled."
As part of rulemaking, FDA declared a ban on the interstate sale of unpastuerized milk, noting the link between raw milk and outbreaks of two serious bacterial diseases, campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis, which can "on rare occasions result in death."
According to FDA, its regulations prohibiting the interstate sale and distribution of unpasteurized milk promotes "bodily and physical health."
The hearing in federal district court will address whether the lawsuit should be dismissed on the grounds raised by the defendants, but will not otherwise address the factual merits of the plaintiffs' claims.
A date for hearing the oral arguments is expected to be set later this month, although it could be later than that due to a heavy court calendar.

Food safety concerns mount as oil found in Gulf crabs
The massive Gulf oil spill is raising seafood safety questions, as university scientists report finding oil droplets in crab larvae.
The larvae of blue crabs and fiddler crabs from Louisiana to Pensacola, Fla., contain oil droplets, reports scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi and Tulane University in New Orleans, according to the Biloxi Sun Herald.
"We will see this enter the food chain in a lot of ways," Harriet Perry, director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, said in the story. "Fish are going to feed on (crab larvae). We have also just started seeing it on the fins of small, larval fish ? their fins were encased in oil. That limits their mobility, so that makes them easy prey for other species."
Perry told the McClatchy paper that researchers have not yet linked the crab larvae's hydrocarbons to the BP disaster, but she has little doubt the Gulf spill is the source. In her 42 years of studying blue crab, she said she's never seen such contamination.On Tuesday, during his first visit to the Gulf region since the spill began April 20, Vice President Biden announced a new federal effort to ensure seafood safety.
He said two federal agencies -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Food and Drug Administration -- will form a partnership to test seafood and decide which areas are OK for fishing.
Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator at NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, said in an announcement of the new effort:
No single agency could adequately ensure the safety of seafood coming from the Gulf following this tragedy, but in working together, we can be sure that tainted waters are closed as appropriate, contaminated seafood is not allowed to make it to market, and that closed waters can be reopened to fishing as soon as is safe.
The agencies will be coordinating with state officials to close fishing and shellfish harvesting areas in the Gulf of Mexico that have been or are likely to be exposed to oil from the spill.
Federal officials say they are also testing fish caught just outside of closed areas to ensure these areas are large enough to prevent the harvest of contaminated fish.
"So far," the announcement said, "fish flesh tested from outside the closure areas have tested well below any level of concern for oil-based contamination."

FDA Sued for Failure to Regulate BPA
by Michelle Greenhalgh | Jul 06, 2010
The National Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) citing the FDA's failure to act on a petition to ban the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in food packaging, food containers, and other materials likely to come into contact with food last week.
The National Resources Defense Council claims that the FDA has failed to take action for over 18 months in response to an October 2008 NRDC petition (pdf), even though the organization expressed concern about the effects of early life exposure to BPA on brain and reproductive development.
The council's petition claims that existing scientific evidence is more than enough to deduce that BPA in our food supply is a human health issue.
BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastics, commonly used in consumer products such as baby bottles, sippy cups, and reusable water bottles.
In addition to plastics, BPA is also in the resin lining of canned food and beverages such as beer and soda cans as well as canned liquid infant formula. Humans are usually exposed to BPA by eating contaminated food or using infant formula, eating canned food, or drinking canned beverages.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, the FDA has been slow to acknowledge the current science on BPA and has been reluctant to regulate the use of the chemical in food and beverage packaging. The group states that millions of Americans will continue to be exposed to dangerous levels of BPA on a daily basis if the FDA does not take action soon.
One Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found that over 90 percent of Americans tested were found to have residues of BPA in their blood, while other research shows that babies are being born with BPA already present in their blood, which indicates that they are being exposed through their mothers before birth.
When humans are exposed to BPA, it can act like female sex hormone, estrogen and can interfere with normal development and function of the body. In animal studies, exposure early in life to BPA has been linked to prostate cancer, breast cancer, pre-diabetes, changes in fat metabolism, chromosome abnormalities, and changes in the way the brain develops, resulting in behavioral abnormalities.
The National Resources Defense Council offers the following guidelines for avoiding and reducing exposure to BPA:
1. Limit your consumption of canned food by eating fresh or frozen produce and buying processed food in "brick" cartons, pouches or glass,

2. Limit your consumption of canned soda and beer - where possible choose glass as an alternative,

3. If you have a newborn, avoid baby bottles or sippy cups made of polycarbonate (hard, clear, shatterproof) plastic. They are marketed with the recycling symbol #7, and sometimes labeled "PC" (Not all #7 plastics are polycarbonates-the only way to know for sure is to call the manufacturer),

4. Use BPA-free reusable water bottles, such as unlined, stainless steel bottles;

5. Don't allow children to have dental sealants made from BPA (or BADGE) applied to their teeth, and don't have these sealants applied to your teeth while you are pregnant. Ask your dentist to provide BPA-free treatments.

Schlosser: 'We Need a Modern Food Safety System'
by Helena Bottemiller | Jul 07, 2010
Author Eric Schlosser Films Action Alert for Food Safety Bill, As Timing in Senate Remains Uncertain
Consumers Union (CU) is adding some star power to their food safety advocacy efforts. Eric Schlosser, award-winning author of Fast Food Nation and co-producer of Oscar-nominated Food, Inc. recently filmed a video action alert for the group, calling on the Senate to pass a bill to overhaul the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) dilapidated food safety system.
The pending FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which would boost the agency's authority and mandate, has been stalled in the Senate since it was unanimously voted out of committee in mid-November. A slew of pressing legislative priorities--from health care to Wall Street reform--have left little time on the Senate floor.
The food safety bill continues to have broad bipartisan support, especially as small farmer concerns are ironed out. It is simply a matter of time.
In last week's action alert, Schlosser and Consumers Union sent out a clear message: tell your Senators to make the food safety bill a priority.
In just under a week the alert has inspired over 12,000 emails, and likely a high volume of calls, to Capitol Hill.
The alert also caught the attention of Congressman John Dingell, who tweeted the link to his followers with an enthusiastic "Bravo!" Dingell is among the House members constantly hammering the Senate to move on the bill. The House passed a similar version last July with bipartisan support.
In the action alert, Schlosser points to the the oft-cited foodborne illness statistics. "Those numbers are way too high," he said.
"The centralization and industrialization of our food system has made it very easy for dangerous pathogens to spread far and wide. That's why we need a modern food safety system," he says in the video. "We've seen what happens when we let Wall Street regulate itself, and when we let the oil industry regulate itself. It makes absolutely no sense to let the food industry continue regulating itself."
Schlosser urged people to call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and ask them to make the bill a priority for the next work period.
"I see why there are so many other issues--like saving the economy from collapse--that they've had to deal with, but this one seems like a no brainer," Schlosser told Food Safety News in an interview. "It's not a hot button political issue like abortion or gun control where there are passionate divisions and people on each side. There's really nobody saying 'I want MRSA in my pork' or 'I want E. coli in my ground beef.'"
"I think it's tragic if these people in Washington are behind the curve, especially when the cost of being behind the curve is so high," said Schlosser.
Food safety advocates are still optimistic the Senate could take up the bill in the next work period, before the month-long August recess. Senate staff tend to agree there is a possibility, but the timing, as it has for months, remains uncertain.
When the Senate returns from the Fourth of July recess the food safety bill will compete with a Supreme Court nomination, climate change, and jobless benefits for floor time.

Gulf Seafood's Future Remains Unknown
by Dan Flynn | Jul 07, 2010
Maybe now if the Gulf seafood industry could just see over the horizon, it would be comforted just by knowing what's really ahead. Instead, in the 79 days since the Deepwater Horizon blew up, safe seafood from the Gulf remains an elusive possibility, but that's about it.
That became even more apparent Tuesday when tar balls were found floating right next to New Orleans in Lake Pontchartrain. Churning wind and waves were responsible.
Oil has now washed up on the beaches of all five Gulf states from Texas to Florida and an estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day continue to gush from the sea floor.
The areas closed to fishing, up to 95 percent of state waters and 34 percent of the U.S. economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, are said to be there to protect both consumers and the seafood industry.
The federal closure area peaked on June 21 when it represented almost 36 percent of the Gulf economic zone.
Over the long 4th of July weekend, the closed federal waters again expanded to 81,181 square miles, an area roughly the same size as the State of Kansas. The expand closure zone came after the first hurricane of the season (Alex) churned up Gulf waters before making landfall in Mexico.
Not being able to see what's ahead does not mean there are plenty of developments that will impact the future availability and safety of Gulf seafood. Some of these include:
Food Chain--Droplets of oil were found inside the larvae of blue crabs and fiddler crabs by University of Southern Mississippi and Tulane University scientists. Oil in the Gulf seafood chain is news of the worst kind because it puts hydrocarbons in the food chain. The findings caught state fisheries officials off guard.
Bacteria Threat--In case anyone forgot in all the excitement over the BP oil spill, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reminded consumers that during warm summer months the biggest threat that comes with the consumption of Gulf oysters is that good old stand-by, Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.
Ingredients Lost--New Orleans Chefs are warning the loss of Gulf seafood means the loss of Cajun Cuisine. One study shows 240 "place-based" foods that might be lost as it takes various kinds of fish and vegetables to make many Cajun and Creole dishes.
Po-boys Off the Menu--Rising prices and limited supply for oysters and finish are forcing local restaurants to drop one of their menu staples--the Po-boy.
That's their story--Both when the President last visited and more recently when Vice President Joe Biden made a swing through the Gulf states, the White House pitched the collaboration among state and federal agencies to keep Gulf seafood safe to eat. For as often as they've trumpeted the work, yet little factual data has come out of the agencies responding for food safety, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
State Closures--Louisiana announced closures to recreational and commercial fishing in portions of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes that went into effect Monday.
The portion of the state inside waters east of the Mississippi River north of the eastern shore of Main Pass and south of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet from the double rig link westward to the eastern shore of the Mississippi River and north along 89 degrees 42 minutes 32 seconds west longitude near the western shore of twin pipeline canals.
The closures were called "precautionary." Louisiana will conduct seafood testing in the area.
Mississippi has banned all commercial and recreational fishing, including all species of finfish, crabs, shrimp, and oysters off most of its coastline.
Alabama's state waters outside Mobile Bay are open only to recreational catch and release fishing.
Florida's state waters are closed off Escambia County. All other Florida waters remain open.

Obama heralds Food Safety Act

Published: July 7, 2010 at 3:26 PM
WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday the Food Safety Modernization Act will give the government the tools necessary to keep the nation's food supply safe.
"A year ago today, the Food Safety Working Group, chaired by Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, announced key findings on how to upgrade the food safety system. Since then, my administration has taken steps to reduce the prevalence of E. coli, implemented new standards to reduce exposure to campylobacter, and issued a rule to control salmonella contamination," Obama said in a statement.
"Among other accomplishments, the (Food and Drug Administration) has conducted a pilot study on a tracing system, and HHS, in collaboration with USDA, has rolled out an enhanced and updated site to provide consumers rapid access to information on food recalls.
"But there is more to be done. Today, I thank the House for its work and support efforts in the Senate to pass S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. This bipartisan bill would complement the work already undertaken by the Food Safety Working Group. The bill addresses longstanding challenges in the food safety and defense system by promoting a prevention-oriented approach to the safety of our food supply and provides the federal government with the appropriate tools to accomplish its core food safety goals."
The Food Safety Modernization Act was originally expected to be signed into law in May. The Senate took up the measure for discussion Wednesday.

Food Dyes Linked to Cancer, ADHD, Allergies
by Laurel Curran | Jul 08, 2010
These days it's ordinary to cool off with a magenta popsicle or quench thirst with a neon green sports drink. Vibrantly colored foods have become the norm, but studies show that popular food dyes carry profound risks. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently published a comprehensive report called "Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks" (pdf) which details the inherent risks of nine different dyes widely used in common foods.
The report reveals that common food dyes pose risks of cancer, hyperactivity in children, and allergies.
The food industry dumps over 15 million pounds of the dyes studied into the food supply each year. Three of the dyes carry known carcinogens, and 4 can cause serious allergic reactions in some consumers. New studies show that seven of them contributed to cancer in lab animals, including brain and testicular tumors, colon cancer, and mutations.
"These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.
James Huff, an associate at the National Toxicology Program commented, "Some dyes have caused cancers in animals, contain cancer-causing contaminants, or have been inadequately tested for cancer or other problems. Their continued use presents unnecessary risks to humans, especially young children. It's disappointing that the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] has not addressed the toxic threat posed by food dyes."
CSPI mailed a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week detailing a request that food dyes be banned in the United States to protect consumers. CSPI charges that the FDA is failing to enforce the law in the following ways:
- "Red 3 and Citrus Red 2 should be banned under the Delaney amendment, because they caused cancer in rats (some uses were banned in 1990), as should Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, which are tainted with cancer-causing contaminants.

- Evidence suggests, though does not prove, that Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40 and Yellow 6 cause cancer in animals. There is certainly not "convincing evidence" of safety.

- Dyed foods should be considered adulterated under the law, because the dyes make a food "appear better or of greater value than it is"--typically by masking the absence of fruit, vegetable or other more costly ingredient."

CSPI charges that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knows about the health risks imposed by the presence of these dyes, but has not acted to protect consumers.
Despite the risks, Red 3 remains in our food supply today, with over 200,000 pounds poured into processed foods each year, including ConAgra's Kid Cuisine frozen meals and Betty Crocker's Fruit Roll-Ups.
Experts admit that in order to conclusively state the extent of harm imposed by these dyes more comprehensive testing should take place. Many consumer advocacy groups are calling on the FDA to carry out its own tests on the dyes if the results of these other tests are not conclusive.
British lawmakers reacted to the findings of these studies and already forced companies to phase out the harmful dyes served in Britain before January of this year. Additionally, the European Union passed a law that goes into effect on July 20 requiring companies to post a notice on each dyed product sold in Europe. The notice states, "May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."
This law is expected to encourage the companies still using these dyes to completely eliminate them inside all of Europe over the next year.
Color is used to attract consumers, and the good news is that synthetic, petroleum-based dyes are not irreplaceable. There are a lot of natural dyes that can be used to brighten food. Blueberry juice concentrate, carrot juice, paprika, grape skin extract, beet juice, purple sweet potato, corn, and red cabbage are just a few alternative dyes.
CSPI names a few stark differences in foods served in the United States and Europe in the report. In Britain, Fanta orange soda is dyed with pumpkin and carrot extract while the U.S. version is dyed with Red 40 and Yellow 6. Kellogg Strawberry NutriGrain bars are colored with Red 40, Yellow 6 and Blue 1 in the U.S., but with beetroot, annatto and paprika extract in the UK. McDonald's Strawberry Sundaes are colored with strawberries in Britain but with Red dye 40 in America.
Consumer advocacy groups are calling on the FDA to enact similar policies in the United States. These groups argue that we deserve real strawberries too.

Recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks with Colorado beef link
Posted on July 5, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
On Friday we learned that Rocky Mountain Natural Meats, a Henderson, Colorado meat business, was recalling approximately 66,000 pounds of bison products due to potential contamination by E. coli O157:H7. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service became aware of the problem during the course of an on-going investigation into a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in Colorado with illness onset dates between June 4, 2010 and June 9, 2010. Working in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the New York Department of Health, 5 cases were been identified in Coloradoand 1 in New York with indistinguishable strains of E. coli. FSIS determined that there is an association between the ground bison products and the cluster of illnesses in the state of Colorado.
Of course, Colorado has seen, or been the source state of, beef E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks before. In the spring of 2009, a multistate E. coli outbreak was discovered involving ground beef produced by the JBS Swift Company at their Greeley, Colorado location. Most ill persons had consumed ground beef; many reported that it was undercooked. Samples from unopened packages of ground beef recovered from a patient's home were tested by the Michigan Public Health Laboratory. These yielded E. coli O157:H7 that matched the "DNA fingerprint" of the outbreak strain. Twenty three persons had been infected with the strain that matched by standard DNA testing. The beef was sold in the United States and Mexico. Mexican health officials banned further importation of the meat.
And in 2002, the Colorado Department of Health identified an outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 infections in Colorado residents. The strain of E.coli isolated from these ill persons was subsequently found to match strains of E.coli from other cases in Colorado and other states. The initial epidemiological investigation implicated ground beef purchased at Kroger's grocery stores. The ground beef was produced by ConAgra Beef Company. On June 30, independent of the outbreak, the ConAgra Beef Company issued a nationwide recall of 354,200 pounds of ground beef produced on May 31. The recall resulted from routine microbiological testing that had been conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The strain of E.coli that had been found in this hamburger matched the strain of E.coli that had been isolated from the ill persons. Subsequent to the detection of this multistate outbreak and the plant inspection, the ground beef recall was expanded nationwide. An additional 18.6 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground beef and beef trimmings were recalled. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's inspector general blamed both federal meat inspectors and ConAgra Beef Company for errors contributing to the outbreak. Evidence of E.coli O157:H7 contamination had been ignored since January, 2001, more than a year before this outbreak was detected.
And in 1997, 15 unlucky Coloradans were felled by E. coli O157:H7 after consuming pre-formed, frozen ground beef patties produced by Hudson Foods Company. Five patients were hospitalized, but none developed hemolytic uremic syndrome or died. Eleven (79%) of 14 patients reported eating frozen pre-formed ground beef patties or burgers at least once during the 7-day period preceding illness onset; eight specifically recalled eating Hudson Foods brand product, and three, who could not recall a specific brand name, identified package labeling consistent with Hudson Foods brand. Hudson Foods beef burgers collected from the freezers of two of the 15 patients bore the identical lot number (156A7); both yielded E. coli O157:H7 when cultured at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service Laboratory in Athens, Georgia.

Update: Colorado dairy linked to 26 E. coli and Campylobacter illnesses

By Julian Martin

July 6, 2010
Two more illnesses have been linked to raw goat milk sold from a Colorado farm, the Boulder County Health Department announced Friday.
The announcement brings the total number of E. coli and Campylobacter reports in connection with the Billy Goat Dairy in Longmont, Colo., to 26.
Billy Goat Dairy sells unpasteurized milk to 43 households as part of a herd share program, in which residents purchase a share of a goat in exchange for raw milk. Health officials are contacting members of the program to check for symptoms, according to the Daily Camera.
"We're still trying to determine if it's isolated or ongoing," said Murielle Romine, of Boulder County Public Health, to The Daily Camera. "It is just very hard to gauge at this point if there is an exact date of suspect milk."
The Billy Goat Dairy was ordered by the health department to stop distributing milk during the investigation. Department officials said they discovered sanitation issues, incorrectly labeled products and milk being stored at improper temperatures. The dairy will be allowed to resume selling raw milk once all the problems have been addressed, and the investigation is complete, according to CBS4.
Raw milk is milk that has not been heated to a temperature capable of killing harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella. While interstate sales of raw milk are illegal, unpasteurized milk sales are legal in 26 states. In Colorado, raw milk sales are illegal in stores, but are allowed as part of herd share agreements.
Also known as gastro flu, Campylobacter can cause diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, headache and muscle pain. E. coli can lead to severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting two to five days after eating the contaminated products.

A year later, 'heroic' E. coli survivor still battling

By Val Willingham, CNN

July 6, 2010 12:47 p.m. EDT


¡¤ E. coli survivor still in rehab, battling to reclaim life

¡¤ Las Vegas woman ate cookie dough, endured coma, seizures, organ failure

¡¤ CDC: 76,000 people get E. coli 0157 annually. About 2,500 are hospitalized; 50 to 100 die

¡¤ Patient must relearn to walk, tell time, remember dates and use her fingers

San Francisco, California (CNN) -- It was prom night, May 2009, and Linda Rivera of Las Vegas, Nevada, was making goodies for her twin sons' party.

Breaking out a tub of cookie dough, she nibbled on a couple of bites as she portioned scoop after scoop onto the baking sheet. She never thought much about it. She had made cookies from refrigerated cookie dough a dozen times before.

The party went off without a snag. And Linda went on with life. But two days later, she began to feel sick -- really sick.

"I felt like I had the cold, the flu, something like that " she said. "It seemed like it would pass but I started throwing up. I even had blood in my stool."

It got so bad, her husband, Richard, took her to the hospital. Physicians in the emergency room diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome and sent her home. But she didn't get better. Her husband knew something was wrong. "She was vomiting every five minutes."

She told him, "If I have to go through this one more day, I will die," he said.

Two days later, Linda Rivera was rushed back to the hospital. She was dehydrated, weak and could barely walk. After more tests, doctors told Richard Rivera that his wife had contracted E. coli and that it was destroying her colon. They moved her to the Intensive Care Unit.

"E. coli -- I heard of it but I didn't really know much about it. They kept her in a doctor's-induced coma for 10 to 12 days. But she was strong. We played the Beach Boys' 'Kokomo,' and she would move her foot and mouth to the words during the coma, so we knew she was there," said Richard Rivera.

Each year about 76,000 people get Linda Rivera's strain of bacteria -- E. coli O157-- according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 2,500 are hospitalized and 50 to 100 people die from it each year. E. coli O157 lives in the colon and feces of animals and humans. In certain situations, it can taint food, particularly raw meat and vegetables. Although salmonella kills more people than E. coli, because more people get it, the effects of E. coli, according to health experts, are much more severe. Ingest a strong strain of it, doctors say, and it can shut down your entire body.

A couple of bites of cookie dough. That's all it took.
--Linda Rivera, E. coli survivor

Although Linda Rivera came out of her coma within two weeks, it was only the beginning. She'd had part of her colon removed before she fell unconscious. She had multiple seizures and her liver and kidneys stopped functioning.

"After she came out of her coma she started to respond more," her husband said.

"But then she went into cardiac arrest and she started to swell up. They had to do emergency dialysis. They pulled off about 45 pounds of fluid in a three-day period. That was pretty scary."

Several times clergy were called to Linda's bedside, but the E. coli didn't win.

"By Christmas I thought she would be home. She was actually eating. In January she got worse, but she came back from that."

What caused this once-vibrant woman to become infected with E. coli? Nevada public health officials tried to pinpoint the problem. Did the family eat bad meat, tainted vegetables, strawberries? All those came back negative, until someone remembered a cookie dough recall due to E. coli contamination.

"A couple of bites of cookie dough," Linda Rivers said. "That's all it took."

In June 2009, Nestle USA recalled all its refrigerated and prepackaged cookie dough products because many were tainted with E. coli bacteria. At least 69 people from 30 states reportedly suffered from E. coli food poisoning. Nine of those cases resulted in hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severe form of food poisoning associated with kidney failure. Linda was one of them. It's believed the wheat used in the dough was contaminated. The company has since changed the formula for its famous cookie dough.

I have been doing this a long time and I don't think I have seen anyone this ill make it.
--Bill Marler, attorney

"I have been doing this a long time and I don't think I have seen anyone this ill make it," said the Riveras' attorney, Bill Marler, who has handled hundreds of cases involving foodborne illness.

"She has basically missed out on a year of [her children's] lives. It is just devastating."

Linda is still suffering from the illness, more than a year later. For 12 months she was in and out of area hospitals in Las Vegas. She was confined to a hospital bed, unable to work, unable to talk, unable to walk.

She moved to California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, California, two months ago, where she remains today.

Her physician, Dr. Phillip O'Keefe, said he wasn't surprised her body shut down.

"It causes multisystem disease. I suspect it was the bad luck of the draw in respect to how much toxin she got."

Now Linda's days are filled with different forms of therapy. She must learn to walk, tell time, remember dates and use her fingers. She still gets around in a wheelchair, but doctors say she is making great progress.

"Linda has improved since she has been here," said O'Keefe. "Her kidney function is better. She still has some problem with her liver. Her ability to deal with the pain and the problems has really been heroic," he said.

Richard Rivera has been by Linda's side at every step. It's been a "year of hell," he said.

I will keep trying. I want to survive. I don't want this horrible disease to win.
--Linda Rivera, E. coli survivor

Linda Rivera has missed her twin sons' high school graduation and the birth of her new grandchild, Ellie j.

But she continues to fight, hoping not to miss more precious moments. "I will keep trying. I want to survive," she said.

"I don't want this horrible disease to win. I want the rest of the world to know about this illness."

"It steals your life away," said her husband.

"She's missed so much. No family should have to go through this. Linda is probably the most giving, cheerful and optimistic woman in the world. To see what this had done to her has just torn me apart."

Through it all, Linda Rivera remains devoted to her family. "I have a wonderful family, no matter what the future brings, we have each other."

Richard Rivera agrees.

"Till death do us part," he said.

If she's forced to be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, he said, "I will get one too and race down the street with her."

Salmonella: the year in review . . . so far
Posted on July 6, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
With annual costs attributable to foodpoisoning outbreaks topping $152 billion, there is little doubt that food-related illnesses are a major public health concern. Salmonella, just one of many potentially lethal bugs, causes approximately 40,000 confirmed cases of salmonellosis every year in the US, though the number of actual cases is likely more than 30 times higher. These statistics come as no surprise when you consider that, as one example only, over 7% of broiler chickens sold at retail are contaminated by Salmonella.
So what of this year's progress, or lack thereof, on the nasty little bug that is one of the most common causes of foodpoisoning? Here is a selection of major Salmonella outbreaks that have occurred since the beginning of 2010:
ConAgra's Marie Calendar's brand Cheesy Chicken and Rice frozen entrees: ConAgra is, of course, currently embroiled in a Salmonella chester outbreak linked to its Marie Calendar's brand products. Though the recall was announced in mid-June, the outbreak may not be over. In fact, as judged by previous frozen meal Salmonella outbreaks linked to ConAgra products, many consumers may still have the contaminated Cheesy Chicken and Rice meals in their freezer, unaware that the product could kill them. To date, the CDC counts 37 confirmed illnesses nationally in the outbreak. The outbreak has spawned two lawsuits, on behalf of Oregon men who ate the product and became ill.
Skokie Country Club: The most recent report is that 37 people have suffered confirmed Salmonella infections in the Salmonella outbreak at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Illinois. Eight victims have required hospitalization, and two of those victims remain hospitalized. The strain of Salmonella in the Skokie Country Club outbreak is Salmonella enteritidis, which is one of the most common of the 2,000+ different strains of Salmonella. Serotype enteritidis is frequently, though not always, associated with the consumption of undercooked eggs.
Kentucky Salmonella Outbreak: Several county health departments and the state Department for Public Health are investigating an outbreak of salmonella in three Central Kentucky counties.At least six people (and likely many more, based on word that has passed through the grapevine) who live within 5 miles of Berea have contracted the bacterial illness. Cases have been reported in Rockcastle, Madison and Garrard counties.
Caldwell Fresh Foods Sprouts: As of June 24, 2010, the CDC counted a total of 44 people infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Newport in 11 states since March 1, 2010. The outbreak was caused by raw alfalfa sprouts produced by Caldwell Fresh Foods, a Maywood, California company. The number of ill people identified in each state with this strain is as follows: AZ (4), CA (19), CO (1), ID (6), IL (1), MO (2), NM (2), NV (4), OR (2), PA (1), and WI (2). Illnesses began between March 1, 2010 and June 1, 2010. Among the 34 patients with available hospitalization information, 7 (19%) were hospitalized.
Utah Raw Milk Outbreak: Utah health officials have linked two outbreaks?one campylobacter and one salmonella?to the consumption of raw milk. The campylobacter outbreak is linked to raw milk purchased from Ropelato Dairy in Ogden, Utah, and has resulted in at least 9 illnesses in residents of Weber, Davis, and Cache counties. On Monday, the Utah Department of Health suspended Ropelato Dairy¡¯s permit to sell raw milk. Coliform testing done on milk at the dairy showed high coliform counts, which suggest the presence of disease-causing bacteria, like campylobacter, in the milk.
The second raw milk outbreak in Utah (a salmonella outbreak) sickened at least 6 people in late April in Utah, Salt Lake, and Wasatch Counties. The outbreak was linked to raw milk from Redmond Farms in Sevier County. Samples of raw milk produced at the dairy from April 5 to April 22 tested positive for Salmonella.
Casa Lopez in Athens, Ohio: The Athens City-County Health Department noticed a sharp uptick in Salmonella infection in early May 2010, and were able to trace the outbreak back to Casa Lopez, located at 1017 East State Street in Athens. At least 45 people had confirmed illnesses in the outbreak, with hundreds likely sickened who did not get tested. We filed suit on behalf of 19 year old Tyler Nay on June 18.
Los Dos Amigos: Los Dos Amigos, a mexican restaurant in Roseburg, Oregon, was the site of a large salmonella outbreak in April. Douglas County health officials report that at least 30 people suffered culture-confirmed salmonella foodpoisoning illnesses, and that cross-contamination was probably a cause of the outbreak. We filed suit on May 19 on behalf of a Roseburg, Oregon resident sickened in the Los Dos Amigos outbreak. We represent a number of other people sickened in the outbreak as well.
Subway Salmonella in Illinois: Subway restaurants from across the state of Illinois have been associated with a very large Salmonella Hvittingfoss outbreak that has sickened around 100 people in 28 counties with confirmed foodpoisoning illnesses. The actual number of people sick in the outbreak may be in the thousands, as studies have demonstrated that, in any outbreak of Salmonella, as many as 38.6 times the number of confirmed illnesses are actually ill. Subway, which has issued an apology to its customers, acted quickly on learning of the outbreak to remove many fresh produce items from its Illinois restaurant locations. There has been no official word as to which item in particular was the cause of the outbreak. We filed suit on behalf of Alicea Bush-Bailey in June for injuries suffered in the outbreak.
Salmonella Montevideo Outbreak linked to Salami and Pepper: According to the CDC, 272 people were sickened by Salmonella montevideo from since July 2009 after consuming salami that was manufactured using salmonella-contaminated red and black pepper. The salami was manufactured and sold by a Rhode Island company called Daniele Inc. The pepper (both black and red), which has long been known to have been the original source of contamination, was imported and sold by two companies: Wholesome Spice Company and Mincing Oversease Spice Company. We represent a number of people sickened in the Salmonella Montevideo outbreak, including Ray Cirimile and Lee Hanks, who have pending lawsuits against the companies involved.
Bullock's BBQ in North Carolina: The Durham County Health Department (DCHD) investigated a foodpoisoning outbreak among persons who ate food prepared at Bullock¡¯s Barbecue, located at 3330 Quebec Drive in Durham, in late April, 2010. Ultimately, the N.C. State Public Health Laboratory was able to determine that the strain of salmonella involved in the outbreak was Salmonella enteritidis, likely introduced into the restaurant environment by contaminated eggs. We represent multiple people for foodpoisoning illnesses suffered in this outbreak.
Chico "Margarita Mix-off" Outbreak: At least 15 Salmonella illnesses among residents or visitors to Chico, California have been linked to the Margarita Mix-Off event held at Manzanita Place on May 8. Health authorities have been unable, thus far, to pinpoint the precise source of the bacteria; food at the mix-off event was served by at least six separate local restaurants
Salmonella spinach and lettuce outbreaks and recalls in May: Fresh Express, a subsidiary of Chiquita Brands International, Inc., lettuce products caused a Salmonella outbreak in the ¡°Upper-Midwest¡± in late April or early May 2010. Not much is known about this outbreak, at least publicly, because the health organizations involved in the investigation did not publicly reveal that the outbreak had occurred.
Several weeks after the outbreak, however, Fresh Express recalled several types of ready-to-eat salads after Salmonella was found in a package tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The recalled products included lettuce mixes, Caesar salad and other salad kits, hearts of romaine and other items. The recall extended to products sold in 26 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Also in May 2010, Organicgirl Produce recalled a limited number of cases of 10 oz organicgirl Baby Spinach with an expired Use-by Date of May 22 and Product Code 11A061167 due to potential Salmonella contamination. The recall included only 336 cases of the 10 oz. package size of organicgirl Baby Spinach sold in six states: Alabama, North Carolina, Oregon, Wisconsin, Arizona and California. Like the Fresh Express recall, Organicgirl recalled the baby spinach products due to a positive test for Salmonella in a random sample test collected and conducted by a third-party laboratory for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein recall from Basic Foods Flavors: And of course, one of the biggest food recalls in history deserves mention, even though it was a recall only, and there were no reported illnesses linked to the product. Earlier this year, a Nevada company called Basic Food Flavors recalled its hydrolyzed vegetable protein product, after testing by a customer showed the the HVP was contaminated by Salmonella Tennessee. HVP is an ingredient in many further processed food products, causing the recall to expand, ultimately, to at least 177 separate food products. Reports suggest that Basic Food Flavors continued to sell its HVP product for at least a month after learning that the product was potentially contaminated.

An E. coli Patient's Will to Live, Part II
by Eric Burkett | Jul 08, 2010
Part II in a II-part series on Linda Rivera's battle with E. coli O157:H7.
Once a week, Jeanine Iyala loads her two kids into the car and makes the roughly 60-mile round trip from Pleasanton to San Francisco to visit her step-mother at Davies Medical Center. Traveling any distance with a 2-year-old and a 9-month-old is hardly convenient but for Iyala, it's a bittersweet experience, as well.
Iyala's step-mother, Linda Rivera, is undergoing physical therapy following her year-long struggle with E. coli O157:H7, a foodborne pathogen that kills up to 100 people in the United States each year. It very nearly killed Linda, three times. She's pulled through, thanks as much to her doctors as to the sheer force of her family and her own will to survive, but she's not out of danger yet. Even if she were to experience no more health complications--and many victims of E. coli continue to feel the effects years afterward--her battle with the disease has left her seriously weakened. She only began to walk again about 6 weeks ago.
For the past 15 months, Linda has been hospitalized continuously, save for a few very brief breaks. She has missed the graduations of three of her sons, she has missed sports tournaments, the birth of Iyala's youngest child; she has missed--perhaps most keenly--the experience of simply being at home with her family.
"At first I was angry," said Iyala, comparing the experience of coming to terms with Linda's illness to Elizabeth Kubler Ross's classic five stages of grief. "You know, she's been robbed and we have been robbed of family times."
Ask Linda's friends and family about the impact of her illness and each will eventually bring up the subject of loss: the loss of participating in milestone events, the loss of time with those she loves, the loss of a woman each had come to admire and rely upon.
Linda is very hands-on with her kids, said Iyala, and she was looking forward to similar relationships with her grandchildren, rolling around with them, being right there in the thick of it.
"I know she thinks that's the type of grandma she wants to be, and it hurts her not to be able to do that."
Soccer Mom
"I used to be a soccer mom," said Linda, laying her in bed at Davies. "I miss that."
Linda was the epitome of the soccer mom. With three boys involved in sports, to say nothing of friends' kids, as well as her own involvement in pretty much every aspect of her children's school careers, Linda spent much of what spare time she had either raising money for various activities at school, or driving kids--everybody's kids--from one place to another.
Robyn Treska, Linda's friend of 23 years, recalled the time Linda was involved in a serious car accident. She had promised to pick up Treska's son to take him to a local bowling alley. From the scene of the accident--a fairly grim incident that left Linda seriously injured--Linda called her, apologizing that she wouldn't be able to give him a ride.
Even her job--as an aide teaching autistic students in her twin boys' school--kept Linda near the kids.
"I would always stay in her room during lunch," said 17-year-old Tony Simpson, one of Linda's twin sons (his brother, Ricky, was out that day). This past year, he said, was the first time he had ever gone to school without having her nearby.
Despite a mischievous grin and his fair, blond complexion, an air of gravity hangs over Tony as he talks about his mother. He estimated he's been interviewed at least 10 times about the illness that nearly took her, but that doesn't seem to have lessened the impact of discussing the matter. It is, he noted, the first time he's been able to talk to a reporter without tearing up during the interview.
"She's the person I talked to most about everything," he said. "I could ask her anything, really."
Seated next to him in the small sitting room just off Linda's hospital room is Emilee Blankenship, Ricky's girlfriend of three years. That she's there, 400 miles away from her own family back in Henderson, NV, seems perfectly normal to her. Linda, Emilee said, had welcomed her into the Rivera family right away. Like Tony, Blankenship took many of her problems to Linda.
"Once you get support from her," Blankenship said, "she can cheer you up in a second."
She's changed
It's not as if Linda can no longer do these things. Nearly everyone marvels at the fact that Linda still asks "How are you?" when she sees them, not out of custom but in concern. Despite her own suffering, she's fully aware of the pain felt by those around her.
"She's still that way," said Treska from her home in Henderson. "She still worries about the way [her husband] Richard feels and the way the boys feel."
But Treska sees changes in her friend, as well.
"I've lost the person I talk to the most," she said. Treska's voice breaks. "We can still talk. She can't hold a conversation like she used to."
Linda's speech has been affected by the illness, as has her memory. She has difficulty with numbers; her memory is a little worse for wear.
"I don't think she'll ever drive again," Treska said. "No, she won't, because of the problem with her eyes."
Linda's son, Tony, understands. "I feel as I've lost half my life," he said. His mother doesn't seem like the same person anymore.
For the first time, Linda, an outgoing, active woman, relies on others for everything. It's difficult for Treska to see her friend this way. For a long time in the earlier stages of her illness, Linda couldn't even speak, said Treska, and it left her feeling even more helpless. The woman to whom everyone else looked for support was afraid to be alone.
"She's dependent now," said Treska. "Hopefully, she can get some of that back. Right now, she's very, very scared."
A source of strength
In the midst of all this, holding it all together, is Linda's husband of 13 years, Richard Rivera. A short, stocky guy with a thick mustache, he beams warmth but even beneath that you can see the cogs spinning, keeping track of everything that has to be dealt with, sizing up new elements, appointments that have to be kept, schedules that must be adhered to.
Linda's physical therapy schedule? He knows it. The kids' flight schedules for a trip to Hawaii--planned years before--to celebrate their graduation from high school? He can reel it off. Somehow, he manages other commitments, as well, maintaining a delicate balance in the midst of a thousand demands on his attention. Somehow, he manages to remain upbeat.
The Riveras' friends and relatives watch him in amazement.
"I've seen the toll it's taken on him emotionally," said his daughter, Jeanine Iyala. "He's the most devoted man I've ever met. It's really renewed my faith in commitment to one another. He does not leave her side. I have to beg him to leave and to go."
Unsure of just how committed Linda's doctors might be to her recovery, he educated himself about his wife's condition as much as he could, said Iyala.
"My god, he's a wonderful man," said Robyn Treska, "but it's got to be hard to sit in that hospital day in and day out. [Linda] just gets more anxious now. She never used to get anxious before. She just doesn't feel in control anymore."
If Richard is frightened, he doesn't show it, she said, if he's hurting, it never comes out. "He needs a medal."
Richard insists his strength comes from Linda. His wife, he said, is his inspiration. "When times get dark, I'm not the one in that bed, she is."
There have been a lot of dark times, too many. But he takes whatever victories he's offered. When Linda first used her walker to walk on her own, "you'd think the 49ers had won the Super bowl," Iyala said.
"Richard's my best friend," said Linda, "my lover, my best friend. He's the one who's worked the hardest, keeping the household together."
Three times throughout the past year, he watched Linda escape death. His choice, he decided, was to sit and blame God or to find meaning in what his family has been forced to endure. They don't take the little things for granted anymore, he said.
"As long as you keep up the fight," he told Linda, "I'll stay here with you."
See Part I of the series, "Linda Rivera: An E. coli Patient's Will to Live", URL:

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