Food Safety Victim Testimony: Margo Moskowitz

Margo Moskowitz, now an Atlanta resident, got sick from contaminated pre-packaged cookie dough in 2009.

FS_moskowitz_100x100That May, while she was a junior at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, she made cookies for a party and took a bite of the dough before baking it. Over the next week, she experienced nausea and lethargy and was eventually hospitalized with stomach pain so severe that she lost memory of much of the experience.

After three days in the hospital, tests revealed that Margo was infected with E. coli O157:H7 — panicking her doctors, who had aggressively treated her with antibiotics, which can cause kidney failure in E. coli victims. The outbreak, traced to the dough's flour, sickened 80 people.

Today, Margo continues to have stomach problems and campaigns for public protections such as the full implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.

Testimony by Margo Moskowitz

My experience with foodborne illness began in May 2009 when I was part of an outbreak, which sickened at least 80 people across 30 states, 35 of whom—including me—had to be hospitalized. I was a junior at the College of Charleston. I was perfectly healthy and looking forward to my senior year. It was late one Saturday afternoon when I remembered I was supposed to bring a finger food to an event later that evening. I quickly ran next door to the small local corner store to pick up some eggs to make cookies. They were out of eggs so I decided to buy prepackaged cookie dough instead. When I got home, I quickly split the cookies apart, took a nibble, and threw them in the oven. Little did I know that one small bite would almost kill me.

Over the next week, I started feeling lethargic and just not myself. I woke up one morning drenched in sweat and extremely nauseous. As I crawled on my hands and knees to the bathroom, I knew this was more than the flu. I had already booked a flight home to visit and didn't want to cancel, so I braved a painful flight back to Virginia. Over the next few days, my symptoms continued getting worse and worse until I had a burning sensation in my stomach so strong that my mom took me to the emergency room. It was my first time as a patient in a hospital. In the ER, I was forced to drink three bottles of liquid so I could have a scan done. I cried out in pain. Each sip made my stomach burn even more. Doctors didn't know what was wrong, so they admitted me around 2 a.m. Concerned I might have something contagious, I was placed in isolation for the first two days. As I got sicker, the doctors put me on very strong antibiotics — upsetting my stomach even more. I wasn't allowed to eat anything besides ice chips.

It was on the third day of my hospital stay that a test revealed that I had an E. coli O157:H7 infection. Doctors panicked. They had placed me on intense antibiotics, which can cause kidney failure for E. coli victims. An infectious disease specialist from another hospital had to be consulted. Over the next three days, I began to get a little better. I was put on different diets ranging from clear liquids to eventually, the morning of my discharge, a plain pancake. To this day, it is the best thing I have ever eaten.

After leaving the hospital, I spent another few weeks at home recovering, forced to make doctors' visits regularly. I eventually went back to Charleston, but I had missed weeks of an exciting internship and so much class, I was required to withdraw.

I spent the next year in and out of doctors' offices — my immune system was decimated. Over a year later, I was excited to celebrate my 21st birthday with friends when I suddenly came down with one of my worst stomachaches. After seeing blood in my stool, I knew something was very wrong. I ended up spending that birthday in the emergency room. After a colonoscopy the next month, it was revealed that I was still suffering because of the E. coli infection.

I am constantly getting better, but I doubt my body will ever be the same. Often when my stomach hurts, I resist telling my friends and family in fear that I've bothered them enough already. Knowing that I am one of thousands of other victims of foodborne illness, I knew I needed to be here today. In order put an end to outbreaks like the one that made me sick, the FDA must fully implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which for the first time requires food processors to take steps to minimize health hazards. The agency should require that food processors test both end products and ingredients under appropriate circumstances. If such testing had been in place in 2008, the company that produced the cookie dough I ate might have been able to identify that there was a problem before anyone got sick. 

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