Linda Rivera’s E. coli O157 infection seems to have struck a nerve. Virtually every major news outlet, and many local ones, across the country has reported on her devastating illness. Foxnews.com reported this morning that "A 57-year-old woman clinging to life in a Las Vegas hospital serves as a warning as to how dangerous and potentially deadly foodborne illnesses can be." The LA Times yesterday recounted the following sobering statistics, of which Linda Rivera is now a part: "One in four Americans get food-borne illnesses each year," and continued that "lawmakers are scrambling to respond." And, in its raw expose on Ms. Rivera’s illness, the Washington Post’s byline reads "Severe case gives context to issue of food safety."
It is certainly no wonder why Linda’s illness has become a major topic of discussion in national newsrooms and editors’ offices. My only concern is that history will, again and again and again, repeat itself despite Linda’s awful circumstances. It’s not like lawmakers haven’t "scrambled" before, and its certainly not the case that we haven’t had context for the issue of food safety for years, even decades. After all, it’s been sixteen years since the infamous E. coli O157:H7 outbreak at Jack in the Box, in which Brianne Kiner, Bill Marler’s client, was horribly injured. And there are a number of other high-profile, devastating outbreaks–including spinach in 2006, and peanuts/peanut butter in 2007 and 2008, to mention just a few–that gave plenty of context to food safety, and should have had lawmakers not only "scrambling," but actually pushing through food safety legislation that has a real impact.
Unfortunately, Linda Rivera’s story is not rare by any means. It is just heart-wrenchingly sad. But not rare. It feels like we have been saying this for years about other folks, some no longer living and many with futures irrevocably changed by the spectre of living with transplanted kidneys. Hopefully more good comes of the incredible suffering endured by the Nestle cookie dough victims than came of any past outbreaks.