On Sept. 19 and 20, a public hearing took place in Washington on draft rules concerning food shipped to the United States. Once finalized, the rules will hold foreign and domestic suppliers to the same safety standards. At the Sept. 19 hearing on Capitol Hill, six Americans who have been sickened by contaminated food delivered testimony about their experiences.
Among those who testified, five people had fallen ill as a result of hepatitis A contamination in pomegranate seeds shipped from Turkey. The outbreak sickened 161 Americans in 10 states.
My name is Claudine Rad, from Mesa, Arizona. On a work training trip in May, I began to feel slightly under the weather. Then it got worse. I felt extremely exhausted and nauseated. I couldn't concentrate, and it would later compromise my ability to do my job. Symptoms persisted, but I was still able to go about my everyday life. It was on another work trip, however, that my condition worsened. My temperature rose, my fatigue worsened, I was jaundiced, my nausea shifted to prolonged fits of severe vomiting. My training was cut short. I was too sick to function.
I returned home and immediately went to see my primary doctor, who put me on antibiotics. The following week, I was watching the news and realized I had consumed the same berry mix that was linked to an ongoing hepatitis A outbreak. After returning to my doctor's office with that information, test results that came back the next week showed that I tested positive for hepatitis A. Unable to work for the next three weeks, I lost my job. I fell behind in paying my bills. The threat of utilities being shut off and repossession loomed. Thankfully, I was able to find another job, but it has been an ongoing challenge building a new client base.
My friends and family were scared. I was told there was nothing I could do but wait it out. The first time I remember feeling healthy again was a full two months later. I am still struggling, however, with debt. My professional and personal life began to fall apart, and my self-esteem severely waned, all because of a contaminated imported food.
As I begin to get myself back on track, I hope that FDA will work just as hard in finalizing the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, fully implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act, and then strongly enforcing the law. Surviving a severe illness such as hepatitis A has made me truly value every day. Time is of the essence. I have also learned the hard way that when foreign food processors are held to an equally high safety standard as food facilities in the United States, fewer people will have to contend with illnesses that can debilitate them physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.