The E. coli O157 outbreak linked to Dole baby spinach is still known as “The Outbreak” amongst producers in America’s salad bowl–a.k.a the Salinas Valley, California. It caused more than 200 severe illnesses, more than 30 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, and killed 5 people–although the CDC only acknowledges 3 deaths.
Ken and Polly Costello are the son-in-law and daughter of Ruby Trautz, who was a vibrant 81-year-old woman when she was infected by E. coli O157-contaminated spinach. Her death, which stretched over 5 agonizing days, gave Ken and Polly a cause that they have yet to relinquish, and probably never will. Joshua Wolfson at the Casper Star-Tribune spoke with the Costellos recently:
Up to that point, the Costellos hadn’t paid attention to the issue of food safety. But the couple decided they couldn’t stand by while others suffered similar tragedies. They educated themselves, met with politicians and started giving media interviews. They wanted tougher rules to help regulators protect consumers.
The Costellos have since acted. They have become a voice for change; they’ve met with survivors and family members of others who have died. Ken joined the board of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention in 2009. “It wasn’t a dirty factory that caused (the spinach outbreak),” he said. “It was something that could occur on anybody’s farm. It could occur on an organic farm or a farm that produced 50 pounds of spinach a week.”
Both Ken and Polly have hailed the recent passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act as a major step in the right direction, “but are quick to say the regulatory overhaul won’t solve the problem altogether. More education on the dangers of food-borne illness also is needed,” according to the StarTribune article. “I think it is very important that whatever can be done is done to ensure that in all areas, whether they are large or small processors, that our food supply is safe,” Polly Costello said.