Food-borne illness impacts 48 million Americans each year. More than 128,000 are hospitalized, and about 3,000 die. Salmonella kills more Americans than any other food-borne pathogen.
Wyl Hylton has penned a riveting and important piece for The New Yorker. “A Bug in the System: Why last night’s chicken made you sick” provides much of the back story of why Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Rosa DeLauro are introducing legislation to create a single federal food safety agency.
The story pivots between the various perspectives of a salmonella outbreak (ultimately linked to chicken from mega-producer Foster Farms). Hylton also covers e.coli and listeria outbreaks.
It begins with the terrifying health crisis experienced by a man infected with Salmonella Heidelberg. Then it pivots to the ineffectiveness of federal agencies that suspected what was occurring, but lacked the regulatory power to take action as more people became ill. There’s a conversation that reveals a legislator’s (DeLauro) outrage and frustration. And then there’s a discussion of the work of prominent food-safety attorney Bill Marler, as he seeks justice for those impacted by food-borne illnesses. (Marler was involved in litigation with Jack in the Box over an e. coli outbreak that killed four children).
Marler told Wyl Hylton:
“One of the reasons that we still have a lot of food-borne illness is because we’ve created these environments of convenience,” Marler told me one morning, as we barrelled down the highway in his pickup, a 1951 Chevy with the license plate “ECOLI”. The truck rattled and reeked of gasoline; his golden retriever, Rowan, slept in the truck bed. “Bagged salad, refrigerators with secret drawers that are supposed to keep things fresh for longer,” Marler said, shaking his head. “We get so wrapped up with production and convenience, and nobody pays any attention to bacteriology.”
This is a long piece, but one that you should read in The New Yorker.