My friend, Darin Detwiler, let me post this tonight for tomorrow.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day the last of four young children died during the landmark 1993 “Jack in the Box” E. coli outbreak
That child was 17-month-old Riley Edward Detwiler.
I learned about the reality of this foodborne pathogen on Riley’s death bed. When he was only a few months old, I justified being out to sea on a Navy submarine by telling myself that I was making the world a safer place for him, and I thought that I would spend the rest of my life making up lost time with him when he was older.
Riley would now be older than I was during that outbreak. I never got to see him grow older than he appeared in the few photos and videos from so long ago. Over the years since his death, however, I have seen news of recalls and outbreaks and deaths on a far too regular basis. I have also seen much improvement in food safety.
We have gained new federal food safety regulations and policies at the USDA and, most recently at the FDA. We have witnessed advancements in science and data collection, and even a whole new “culture of food safety.” We have trainings, certifications, university programs, conferences, magazines, books, and even movies that serve to inform and motivate new generations of food safety experts.
Many of the changes in food safety policies came about through the hard work of victims, families, advocacy groups, and industry leaders. Statistics and charts alone achieve little without victim’s voices. Facts rarely motivate policymakers as much as seeing the faces and stories. I am very proud of their efforts. I am also proud to have stood with them and before them trying to prevent other parents from looking at their family table with one chair forever empty due to preventable illnesses and deaths from foodborne pathogens.
One thing that hits me hard lately is how the faces and stories of victims from mass shootings are seemingly not enough to bring about change in terms of gun control. While no new policies will bring back the dead, they would bring hope and an increased safety for others. I am saddened by the thought that so many parents will live with the belief that their child’s death did not result in some element of change.
Perhaps the reasons matter not as to why parents worry about making the world a safer place for their children. Too many homes in this country include a chair forever empty at a family table due to reasons that could and should have been prevented.
Dr. Darin Detwiler is the Assistant Dean, the Lead Faculty of the MS in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, and Professor of Food Policy at Northeastern University in Boston. In addition to serving as the executive vice president for public health at the International Food Authenticity Assurance Organization, he is the founder and president of Detwiler Consulting Group, LLC. Detwiler and serves on numerous committees and advisory panels related to food science, nutrition, fraud, and policy. He is a sought-after speaker on key issues in food policy at corporate and regulatory training events, as well as national and international events. Detwiler holds a doctorate of Law and Policy.