Food Safety Victim Testimony: Larry and Rita Bernstein

In February 2013, Larry and Rita Bernstein 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_bernstein_mug Seventeen years ago, we nearly lost our daughter Haylee to foodborne illness. We thought we were doing the right thing by feeding salad to our 3-year-old. Unfortunately, the pre-packaged lettuce was contaminated with E. coli. Haylee spent 3 1/2 months in the hospital. For 11 of those 14 weeks, she could not breathe on her own. We were helpless, forced to watch our very young daughter fight for her life because of something she ate. Today, as a result of this infection, she still encounters a myriad of health consequences on a daily basis—reduced kidney function, diabetes, limited eyesight, and a learning disability.

Video: Foodborne Illness Victims Urge Obama to Release Draft Food Safety Rules

Ever since those excruciating months in 1996, we have become food safety advocates. We are from Wilton, CT, and when the Food Safety Modernization Act was being considered in Congress, we came to Washington to tell our representatives to support it. When the law needed funding, we came back to town to urge for appropriations for FDA. The importance of our presence here today cannot be overstated.

As a family forever impacted by foodborne illness, we are pleased that the draft rules on produce safety and preventive controls for processed foods have been released. Together, these rules will reduce the risk posed by convenience products like bagged salads. As parents of a child who was sickened by such a product, we believe that FDA's safety requirements for ready-to-eat products should be particularly stringent. We urge the agency to require product and environmental testing for bagged salads and other “processed” products that are not cooked or otherwise subjected to a “kill” step.

We hope that the draft rules on food imports will soon be released and that all of the proposals will be finalized quickly. Once implemented and enforced, these rules will reduce the needless risk our children face every time they eat, and fewer parents will experience the guilt and horror that we endured. 

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