I once believed that anniversaries were happy occasions to celebrate life's milestones or achievements. But this month marks the first anniversary of the deadliest foodborne outbreak in 25 years, one that took my father's life. “Anniversary” no longer holds the same meaning for me.
My father was a dedicated family man. He loved his wife, six daughters and 13 grandchildren — and his cars. He never feared a day's hard work in his life and spent his younger years picking cotton under the sweltering sun in Casa Grande, Ariz. Later, he moved to Oklahoma where he would raise my sisters and me, retire and, last year, be laid to rest.
As a diabetic with a heart condition, my father always took his health seriously. Despite his efforts to stay in shape and visit the doctor regularly, on Aug. 28, 2011, he collapsed on his kitchen floor and was admitted to a hospital. He was released two days later and then re-admitted before the week was over. This time he didn't come home.
Two days after his funeral, we were told that he died from an infection caused by Listeria, bacteria that came from the contaminated cantaloupe he had eaten. Now, roughly a year later, millions of Americans are still falling ill from foodborne illnesses. Two ongoing Salmonella outbreaks — one linked to cantaloupe, another to mangoes — have already claimed three lives and sickened nearly 400 people.
After my dad died, my family learned about the Food Safety Modernization Act. This landmark legislation was designed to protect Americans from foodborne illnesses by shifting our approach from reactive to preventive. The law estab-lished mandatory safety standards for produce, including cantaloupe. It requires producers to put measures in place to ensure the safety of their foods and to be able to document those steps. It also holds imported foods to the same safety standards as domestic foods.
The food safety rules needed to implement the law, however, have been delayed for more than eight months by the White House Office of Management and Budget. While we wait, people will continue to get sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 48 million Americans will contract a foodborne illness this year.
This is more than just a story about my father; it's a story about the millions of Americans who suffer from preventable foodborne illnesses and the thousands who will die each year. They need proper protections in place to ensure the food on their dinner tables is safe to eat.
It's the government's job to do that. The Food Safety Modernization Act can save lives — but only if the law is implemented.
Frederick's father, William Beach of Mustang, died Sept. 1, 2011.