Speeches & Testimony, Analysis

Testimony of Debbie Treen, Wife and Mother of Foodborne Illness Victims

On Nov. 13, Treen testified before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about her husband’s 2014 experience with E.coli poisoning traced to tainted sprouts.

My name is Debbie Treen from Sammamish, Washington. While they say that lightning doesn’t strike twice, it did for my family and E.coli. Last Mother’s Day, my husband woke up and told me he wasn’t feeling well. Three days later, he was in the emergency room, receiving a litany of medications, painkillers, and IV fluids. Sent home with prescriptions, Kent’s condition did not improve. Days went by, and the pain did not subside. Instead of working his two jobs, he was lying in bed in pain.

When Kent was finally able to return to work as a teacher, he learned that sprouts contaminated with a lethal strain of E. coli could have caused his deadly illness. I was shocked: Twenty-five years ago, both of our children suffered E. coli infections, and one of them had a kidney transplant as a result. The pain of never knowing the source of their illness still lingers. Determined to never feel that way again, Kent contacted his doctor to request culture confirmation. His call was met with reluctance, but we were prepared to pay out-of-pocket for closure and the truth. The source, sprouts in a sandwich he had purchased at a popular restaurant, was confirmed.

It is because of our firsthand experience that our family strongly supports the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act and wants to see implementing rules finalized as soon as possible. It’s been 25 years. I am glad that FDA has proposed strong safety requirements for sprouts. We believe that if these rules had been implemented, my husband would not have been infected. While it is comforting to know the food that sickened Kent is specifically addressed in the proposed regulations, we do not know the source of the next food that will gravely sicken someone’s husband, father, or children. I encourage the agency to require monitoring and testing for other commodities that, like sprouts, pose a high risk of making someone ill.

We urge the agency to finalize strong standards for all possible sources of contamination—like the water used in growing and harvesting, and the raw animal manure used to fertilize fields. How many people have to get sick or die? Let’s not let another year go by.

Media Contact

Matt Mulkey

Manager, Communications

202.862.9864