Speeches & Testimony

Food Safety Victim Testimony: Jennifer Exley

Testimony by Jennifer Exley

FS_exley_100x100 My name is Jennifer Exley, and I reside in Centennial, Colorado. I am the daughter of Herbert Stevens, who was deeply impacted by listeria-contaminated cantaloupe in August 2011. As you well know, 147 people were sickened and 33 people died in that outbreak — the deadliest in 25 years. My father was one of the so-called lucky survivors. His health and quality of life was, and remains, seriously affected because of something he ate.

If I had to describe my dad in one word, it would be “survivor.” He was born very prematurely on June 30, 1927, in Springfield, Ohio, and the family physician did not think he would survive. His father made an incubator for him. By his first birthday, he weighed six pounds. Several years ago, he survived an E. coli infection of an undetermined origin.

On Aug. 22, 2011, however, he became seriously ill because of the listeria infection. Two days later, he could not stand up. When my mom called 911, it marked the beginning of my dad's horrific two-month journey filled with hospital stays and nursing home admissions. He suffered high fevers, disorientation, and even gained 34 pounds of water weight. There were many scary times when we thought he might not survive.

Because my mother could offer him constant supervision at home, my dad was finally and thankfully discharged from the hospital. If not for her and the support of the entire family, my dad would have to be in a nursing home. My mom is no longer a spouse, but a 24/7 caregiver. From the time my dad gets up in the morning to the time he goes to bed at night, my mother makes all of his decisions. She prepares his meals, lays out his clothes, tells him when he needs to bathe, manages his medications, as well as performs daily household chores such as doing the laundry and paying the bills. Although there are rare occasions when my dad is able to enjoy a meal in a restaurant or attend a community event, his time out of the house is typically spent at doctors' appointments. My mother is physically and mentally exhausted.

To say that we are angry is an understatement. Despite our disbelief that the gross negligence of others could forever impact our family, we are hopeful for change. I am glad to know that the proposed-draft produce rule includes requirements for equipment and tools used in the harvesting and packing of fresh produce such as melons with the aim of limiting the bacteria and pathogens that might contaminate them and the produce that contacts them These requirements were not in place when my father and nearly 150 others were sickened, but if they are finalized quickly, other families will not have to experience what mine has. Once FSMA is fully implemented, then hopefully no other couples like my parents will be forced to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in the hospital because of a foodborne illness. The promise of this vitally important piece of legislation must be realized before one more person loses his or her independence or a family member is forced to mourn.

Thank you for listening to my statement.