Families, senator want laws to curb food-borne illnesses

– The public finds out about food recalls after people get sick, but some Oregon families are hoping to change the laws to stop outbreaks before they happen.

The families are working with Oregon’s Sen. Jeff Merkley on promoting a bill in Congress, and they met with him Friday for a roundtable talk.

Jet Valenzuela, 5, of Bend came to Portland with his family to meet with Merkley. When Valenzuela was 3 years old, his mother, Sarah, said E. coli poisoning made him sick, shutting down his kidney’s and nearly stopping his heart twice. He had to have multiple surgeries, was placed into a medically-induced coma, had to relearn to walk, and he had to wear an ostomy bag for months.

“It was a nightmare, and they never figured out what made him sick,” said Sarah. “And I think that was the most frustrating part. I was on the phone with them for hours and hours – going through everything they ate, and they could not figure it out.”

Now Jet can eat his favorite foods again.

“I like popcorn and cheese and candy, that’s all I like to eat,” he said.

Portland police officer Peter Hurley talked about his son Jake. Last year, when Jake was three, he got salmonella poisoning through peanut butter. In his case it was the peanut butter in crackers. Peter and Jake testified before Congress last year.

“He understands that his dad, and because of him being sick, we’re trying to get it so we have a safer food supply,” said Hurley. “But deep down, does he understand? Of course not, it’s a little over his head.”

Merkley said he’s working on new federal laws on food safety. He said he’s working on “traceability” that would make it easier for health investigators to track down what causes outbreaks. He also floated the possibility of adding more people to watch over food companies around the country.

“We are often worried about crime on the streets, but we assume our food is safe, but it is not; and we need to do more to make sure it is safe,” Merkley said.