E. coli in cookie dough shows that food poisoning and health care costs make a dangerous stew.

About 8,675 people in the U.S. are sickened every hour by the bacteria, viruses and parasites that bring us E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria or one of the other

Illustration from Indian Women's Health

Illustration from Indian Women's Health

250-foodborne diseases.

That works out to 208,000 every day or 76 million sick people per year. Of these, the disease detectives say, most will survive with repeated bathroom visits, but 325,000 of them will be hospitalized. At least 5,000 of them will die of food poisoning.

But here’s a number that goes to the heart of the health care squabble: The Department of Agriculture estimates the combined medical costs, productivity losses and the costs of premature death from food poisoning at a minimum of $6.9 billion per year.

Bill Marler, the wizard of food poisoning litigation and darling of the national media hungering for a quote, collected these numbers.

I normally avoid quoting lawyers, but Marler and his team of toxicologists, epidemiologists and health experts seem to spend an enormous amount of time researching food borne illnesses that have little or nothing to do with lawsuits that they’re pursuing. His iPhone is crammed with the direct numbers to most of the government’s top food safety gurus and policy wonks.

But the real reason I’m quoting Marler is that the bustling barrister had the guts to say that Congress passing “meaningful food safety legislation will put lawyers like me out of business, while saving money and the lives and wellbeing of innocent Americans.”

Marler is far from shy and rarely reluctant to comment on almost anything involving food. But this criticism of the nation’s food safety laws was sparked by the plight of one of his clients. Linda Rivera, a mother of six still lies comatose after eating E. coli contaminated cookie dough in May.

Mrs. Rivera’s medical bills to date for dialysis and surgeries to remove her large intestine and gall bladder are well over $1 million. If she survives, her medical costs for future care could run millions of dollars more, Marler says.

Her food-poisoning should shine some light on a crucial reality that is missing from all or most health care reform plans: You can’t fix America’s health care unless you provide Americans with a safe food supply, the lawyer adds.

What this means is that if meaningful food safety legislation is passed, billions of dollars in medical care and treatment could be avoided if people weren’t poisoned in the first place.

Much-needed food safety laws that could diminish some of the food poisoning overwhelmingly passed the House this summer, but is stalled on the Senate side.

For a look at more comments from Marler on the issue, here is a link.

Here is a link to a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago on Mrs. Rivera’s poisoning and exquisitely written story in the Washington Post on her family’s deathwatch.


E. coli in cookie dough shows that food poisoning and health care costs make a dangerous stew. — 1 Comment

  1. The worse part is that farmers and food processors are blamed, and take the financial hit, after the governments promote or force farmers to use bacterial contaminated sewage sludge and recycled water. See

    Wild Boar or Waste Water? Who Slimed the Spinach?
    By Kimberly Hartke | Published: September 11, 2009
    Can Wildlife Really be Blamed when U.S. is Using Contaminated Water to Irrigate our Fields?


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