NH Salmonella Victim Lobbies For Food Safety Bill

March 03, 2010

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A Bedford teenager who continues to suffer health problems three years after eating a salmonella-tainted tomato is urging Congress to require more government inspections of food manufacturers.

Ryan Wilson, now 15, spent three days in the hospital after eating a bad bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich at a pizza shop in Sept. 2007.

"The dehydration itself was bad enough, then having to get up 15 minutes to go the bathroom in the middle night, and getting almost no sleep ... all of that combined made for one of the worst weeks I've ever had," he said.

A month later, Wilson developed arthritis. His knees and ankles caused him so much trouble, he had to use crutches and eventually a wheelchair to get around. Anti-inflammatory medications and weekly injections brought those symptoms under control, but he continues to take daily medication and suffers occasional flare-ups.

"Having to deal with that every day is definitely life-changing. You have to limit certain activities that you do, which is kind of a problem in high school sometimes," he said. "In physical education, some days you just can't run. If I want to consider doing a sport one year, I have to consider, how are my knees going to be that time of the year? I can't really predict what's going to happen."

Wilson traveled to Washington on Wednesday to meet with Sens. Judd Gregg and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and to promote far-reaching food safety bills that would require greater oversight of food manufacturers and give the Food and Drug Administration new authority to order recalls.

A bill passed by the House in July also would require the FDA to develop a system for better tracing food-borne illnesses. Food companies would be required to create detailed food safety plans. The Senate version, co-authored by Gregg, was unanimously backed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee in November and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Wilson said he hopes lawmakers will keep stories like his in mind when considering the legislation, which followed an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts that killed at least nine people last year.

"If they lived through the week that a lot of people with food-borne illness go through, a bill like this should be a no-brainer," he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 76 million cases of food-borne illness, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.

"We continue to see far too many cases of people, like Ryan, becoming extremely ill due to an unsafe food supply," said Gregg, who will meet with Wilson on Thursday.

Gregg said his bill would give the FDA tools to help families know the food they are eating is safe and gives it the ability to respond quickly if outbreaks occur.

"I am hopeful that the Senate will act quickly to take up this legislation," he said. "It is the right approach for addressing the challenges facing our food safety system and will go a long way to keep New Hampshire families healthy."

Shaheen said she is working to address some concerns that the new rules could hurt small farmers in New Hampshire.

"Improving our nation's food safety is a critical responsibility for Congress. We must work to keep families safe by ensuring that the food we put on the table every day is safe," she said.

By:  Holly Ramer
Source: Associated Press