Food Safety Victim Testimony: Elizabeth Armstrong

In February 2013, Elizabeth Armstrong delivered the following testimony at a public meeting held by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Washington, DC. The meeting was one of a series organized to receive comments on rules that FDA is proposing to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA

FSP_armstrong_mug My name is Elizabeth Armstrong, and I am from Fishers, IN. Nearly seven years ago, my two daughters, Ashley and Isabella, ate a spinach salad that still impacts our lives today. The spinach in that salad was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The health consequences for Isabella were, in hindsight, relatively minor, but the same cannot be said for her sister. Ashley developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), resulting in kidney failure.

I sat in the hospital as my youngest daughter appeared almost skeletal. She was crying inconsolably and refused to be touched or held. As a parent, I felt helpless. Days and weeks went by. We had no certainty as to whether Ashley would survive. At 2 years old, Ashley had to endure four months of dialysis.

The grueling health complications did not end with that last treatment. Ashley now lives with kidney disease. She has to take multiple medications daily to make up for her reduced kidney function. We have to see a specialist every three months for a full blood work-up to make sure her kidneys are still functioning. Household meals are structured around Ashley's severely limited diet. My family faces medical expenses that will rise exponentially when Ashley requires a kidney transplant. All from a product that should have been safe.

Unfortunately, this outbreak sickened more than 200 other people across the country. More than 100 other people were hospitalized. There were 30 other instances of HUS infections. Four people died.

No more children should be put at risk because of something they eat. No more parents should be forced to live with the guilt that the healthy food they gave their children made them sick. No more families should have to worry about whether their loved ones will come home from the hospital due to foodborne illness.

As someone whose life was changed by contaminated produce, I applaud FDA for the release of the proposed rules. I urge the agency to limit the produce items and growers that are exempt from the produce rule's requirements to ensure the greatest public health protection. I also think FDA should establish a flexible process for determining which produce items are covered by the rule so it can make a particular item subject to the rule if, in the future, contamination problems occur.

I hope that the two rules are finalized quickly, and that the Food Safety Modernization Act is fully implemented as soon as possible in order to better protect our children and safeguard our food supply. 

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