Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

E. Coli conservatism

If you haven’t read this Times story yet, you really need to.

Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor, thought she had a stomach virus. The aches and cramping were tolerable that first day, and she finished her classes.

Then her diarrhea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed.

Ms. Smith, 22, was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.

“I ask myself every day, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why from a hamburger?’ ”Ms. Smith said. In the simplest terms, she ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance whose rules and risks are not widely known.

Meat companies and grocers have been barred from selling ground beef tainted by the virulent strain of E. coli known as O157:H7 since 1994, after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants left four children dead. Yet tens of thousands of people are still sickened annually by this pathogen, federal health officials estimate, with hamburger being the biggest culprit. Ground beef has been blamed for 16 outbreaks in the last three years alone, including the one that left Ms. Smith paralyzed from the waist down. This summer, contamination led to the recall of beef from nearly 3,000 grocers in 41 states.

Ms. Smith’s reaction to the virulent strain of E. coli was extreme, but tracing the story of her burger, through interviews and government and corporate records obtained by The New York Times, shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble. Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe.

What happened to her could happen to you or me. And it’s a direct result of the conservative drown-it-in-a-bathtub philosophy, and its dedication to getting rid of the kind of government that might have the ability to protect us from this. The title of this post comes from a Rick Perlstein article that explains how we got here. You should read that, too, and you should read this Internet Food Association post that gives some more details on Cargill, the company that supplied the beef for that tainted hamburger Stephanie Smith was unlucky enough to eat. Ezra Klein has more. Bon appetit.

Related Posts:

One Comment

  1. […] was a gift that just keeps giving, wasn’t it? How many more examples do we need to understand what a failure “small government conservatism” is? EoW has […]