Lauren Beth Rudolph died on December 28, 1992 in her mother’s arms due to complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection – Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. She was only 6 years, 10 months, and 10 days old when she died. Her death, the deaths of three other children, and the sicknesses of 600 others, were eventually linked to E. coli O157:H7 tainted hamburger produced by Von’s and served at Jack in the Box restaurants on the West Coast during late 1992 and January 1993. Roni Rudolph, Lauren’s mom, I have known for 20 years.
Dave Theno became head of Jack in the Box’s food safety shortly after the outbreak. I too have known Dave for two decades. However, I only learned a few years ago a significant fact about Dave – one that made me admire him even more – one that I think all leaders in corporate food safety should emulate.
Dave and I shared the stage at the Nation Meat Association annual convention a few years ago. The NMA is an association representing meat processors, suppliers, and exporters. Dave, spoke just before I did and was rightly lauded as someone who takes food safety to heart. However, it was his story about Lauren Rudolph and his relationship with Roni that struck me. Dave told the quiet audience about Lauren’s death. Dave also told us that the death of Lauren and his friendship with Roni had changed him. He told us all that he carried a picture of Lauren in his brief case everyday since he took the job at Jack in the Box. He told us that every time he needed to make a food safety decision – who to pick as a supplier, what certain specifications should be – he took out Lauren’s picture and asked, “What would Lauren want me to do?”
I thought how powerful that image was. The thought of a senior executive holding the picture of a dead child seeking guidance to avoid the next possible illness or death is stunning, but completely appropriate.
Read Lauren’s story in the first chapter of “Poisoned” The true story of the deadly E. coli outbreak that changed the way Americans eat.