New Food Safety Law Born from Chicago Boy's 1993 Death

Sen. Dick Durbin's Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law Tuesday

By Charlie Wojciechowski
|  Tuesday, Jan 4, 2011  |  Updated 11:15 PM CDT
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Nearly two decades after a Chicago boy died after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli bacteria, that boy's mother stood with Sen. Dick Durbin to champion the food safety bill signed into law just hours earlier.

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Nearly two decades after a Chicago boy died after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli bacteria, that boy's mother stood with Sen. Dick Durbin to champion the food safety bill signed into law just hours earlier.

"Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare, but it's a double-whammy when you learn that you had unknowingly delivered his death sentence," said Nancy Donley, whose son, Alex, died from kidney failure four days after eating the tainted burger in 1993. 

Shortly after the boy's death, Durbin, then a U.S. Congressman, received a handwritten letter from Nancy Donley, pleading with him to strengthen food safey laws. 

That resulting bill, the Food Safety Modernization Act, was backed by major grocery chains and passed through Congress last year. President Obama signed it into law on Tuesday.

"With this new bill and this new law, the food supply in America will be safer, and it's absolutely essential that we focus as a nation on having the safest food supply in the world," Durbin said at a Jewel Osco store on North Desplaines Street.

The FSMA gives the Food and Drug Administration new inspection powers and resources to allow it to recall tainted food. Previously, the FDA could only negotiate for voluntary recalls. It also steps up the inspections of domestic and foreign food facilities and requires farms and processors to keep detailed records.

But the cost of food safety won't come cheap. It'll take an estimated $140 million annually over the next 10 years. Some Republican lawmakers, sensitive to the public's concerns about high levels of government spending and debt, balked at the price tag and called for more scrutiny.

But Durbin said he's hoping the recent salmonella and E. coli outbreaks will keep food safety on the front burner for legislators who will have to fund the programs created by the new law.

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