Finding Sympathy in Statistics: Views of Dave Theno Fellow Jaime Ragos

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food security education month

Statistics never take into account the trauma or years of suffering that follow foodborne illness. While here at Food Safety News, we try to keep you up to date with the numbers, recalls and the science, we also recognize that the most important aspect of food safety is protecting lives.

How do you capture people’s attention and make them invest in learning and understanding food security? By showing them the personal stories of those affected.

Jaime Ragos

“You feel the impact when you tell someone about these stories, you feel the pain and the pain,” said Jaime Ragos, member of Dave Theno 2019-2021. Food security news. “I know the most important thing for me is anytime I hear about a mother who miscarries a Listeria child. It could have happened 20 years ago, and they still feel the pain of losing this child. “

Dave Theno knew it. He is a child victim who changed his life and made him devote his life to food security.

Dave Theno

Theno was senior vice president and chief food safety officer for Jack-in-the-Box in 1993, hired after the fast food chain was reeling from a massive and deadly outbreak of E. coli O157: H7. Four children have died in the epidemic which has claimed more than 600 confirmed casualties from undercooked burgers. Most of the victims were young children. Many of them ended up with serious and lifelong complications that required continued medical treatment.

One of the victims was 9-year-old Lauren Beth Rudolph. She died in her mother’s arms on December 28, 1992. Theno carried a photo of Lauren Beth in his wallet from 1993 until her death in 2017, when a villainous wave hit him while swimming in Hawaii .

Lauren Beth Rudolph

Lauren Rudolph’s impact on Dave Theno continues today thanks to the Theno Food Safety Fellowship. The scholarship offers a young food scientist the opportunity to work with professionals from the Stop Foodborne Illness organization and to learn from members of the wider STOP community about the real health consequences of food safety failures. STOP is a not-for-profit public health organization that, since 1994, has focused on the “why” of food safety through personal stories.

The scholarship includes accommodation, remuneration and social benefits; and it requires the scholar to work full time for STOP and complete a 12 credit online food safety certificate program with Michigan State University (MSU).

2019-2021 Dave Theno Food Security Fellow Jaime Ragos had a unique multidisciplinary undergraduate experience that made her an ideal recipient – working in research programs at the University of Tennessee’s Department of Nutrition, in the Department of Food Science and Technology, and the Department of Food Science and Technology. She has also participated in research at the Smith International Center in Guatemala and North Carolina State University in the Department of Food Sciences, Biotransformation and Nutrition.

While working as a member of STOP, Ragos wanted to understand the personal costs of neglecting food safety. So, together with MSU, she created a graduate course for MSU’s online food safety program focused specifically on developing a food safety culture. During the course, she brought in food poisoning victims to talk about their experiences.

“It gives statistics a face,” Ragos said. “It really puts a face to all the pain and suffering that someone has gone through. In our course, we interviewed a man who contracted listeria from a frozen dairy product. And now he sees his life as a pre-illness and a post-illness. Because now he is embarrassed by his speech, because he has difficulty speaking now, and it takes a lot longer for him to walk.

Ragos hopes that sharing these stories will lead to a better culture of food safety, in which individuals and businesses are committed to food safety because they know the impact it has on people’s lives.

Ragos is now traveling to Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She is currently applying to medical schools.

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