University of Michigan graduate joins push for food safety legislation passage
Recent University of Michigan graduate Andrew Lekas ate a few times at an Ann Arbor restaurant last month when he became so ill he ended up at U-M hospital for treatment.
Little did the 22-year-old know, he said, the burritos he had consumed were tainted with a form of E. coli that health officials believed were spread from romaine lettuce originating at an Arizona farm, he said. "It was only a few weeks ago when I became aware of how outdated our food system is," he said.
That recent outbreak of E. coli that has sickened more than 23 people in four states, including nine confirmed in Washtenaw County, is prompting a call for tougher regulation of food distributors by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
On Wednesday afternoon, Lekas lent his support during a telephone briefing with reporters that also featured U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn.
Dingell is the lead sponsor of H.R. 2749, which he said would give more authority and money to the FDA to regulate the food industry inside the U.S. and on foods being imported into the U.S.
Dingell said he also expected it would increase cooperation between agencies like the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent more foodborne illness before a recall becomes necessary.
After passing the House in July, H.R. 2749 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. They are calling for the Senate version of the bill to move forward in the Senate.
Lekas declined to say where he consumed the burrito believed to have sickened him and several others and referred questions to the Washtenaw County Health Department.
Health department spokeswoman Susan Cerniglia said as the department conducted its investigation, it appeared the source of the outbreak was from out of state and had been contained locally. "We don't feel we need to push it (the name of the restaurant) out for any public health reasons," she said.
Despite losing a week and incurring $2,500 of medical bills, Lekas said he was lucky his symptoms weren't worse. In the recent outbreak, at least three people developed serious complications involving kidney failure, officials say. None of them were in Washtenaw County.
Responding to a question about what his symptoms were, Lekas said he did not want to elaborate.
"It was what you would expect from food poisoning," he said. "There was nothing sexy about the process."