Visit comes after victims and their families press Senate to pass legislation to protect the public from foodborne illness


WASHINGTON, DC – Sixteen Americans who have been directly affected by foodborne illness gathered at the White House recently to share their personal stories and meet Sam Kass, assistant White House chef who cooks for the Obama family and is an advisor on food policy; Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, who is lead staffer for the White House Food Safety Working Group; and David Lazarus, senior advisor the Secretary of Agriculture, who coordinates with the White House on food safety.


Representing the millions of Americans who fall ill each year from contaminated food, the victims and relatives of victims appealed to the Obama administration to urge congressional lawmakers to pass food safety legislation this year.


“Too many Americans are needlessly getting sick and many are dying from eating food that should be safe,” said Peter Hurley, who traveled from Oregon to DC with his 5-year-old son Jake. Jake became ill earlier this year after eating peanut butter crackers contaminated with Salmonella.

“Congress needs to pass this legislation,” continued Hurley. “It makes the common sense changes our food safety system needs. We know the system can and must be improved and the time for action is now.”

In March of this year President Obama created the White House Food Safety Working Group, which is charged with coordinating federal food safety efforts. At the meeting on Oct. 9 administration officials reaffirmed their commitment to modernizing our food safety system and ensuring that America’s food supply is both safe and healthy.


Advocates from the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP), the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, and Food & Water Watch joined the 16 Americans who have personal stories about the impact of foodborne illnesses.


While in Washington the victims and relatives of victims also met with FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg along with senators and Senate staff from their home states. Senators were urged to follow the example set by their colleagues in the House – who passed a bipartisan food safety bill in July – and approve companion legislation by Thanksgiving.


“We cannot afford to wait for another outbreak. Congress must act now and pass food safety legislation that protects families from facing the same hardships we have,” said Maine resident Carol Kintner Gates, who lost a family member to a foodborne illness. “Nobody in America should have to worry about whether the food they eat and feed their family will cause severe illness or death.”


Thousands of Americans die annually from foodborne illness, and about half of all reported cases of foodborne illness occur in children, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Megan Kowalcyk, age 13, talked with the White House representatives about her efforts to improve food safety. She said, “I was 5 years old when my brother died. He was my best friend and I still miss him. It really bothers me that so many kids have gotten hurt or died because of foodborne illness.”


Without immediate reform, the preventable outbreaks from contaminated food – like those that occurred earlier this year – are likely to continue.


The following victims and family members were present at last week’s White House meeting: Barbara Kowalcyk, Ohio

Lara Kowalcyk, Ohio

Megan Kowalcyk, Ohio

Patricia Buck, Pennsylvania

Aidan Buck, Pennsylvania

Carol Kintner Gates, Maine/New Hampshire

Jake Hurley, Oregon

Peter Hurley, Oregon

Trissi Fair Bennett, Virginia

Paul Bennett, Virginia

Chloe Bennett, Virginia

Luke Bennett, Virginia

John Christoferson, Oregon

Thomas Christoferson, Oregon

Chrissy Christoferson, Oregon

Karl Christoferson, Oregon

Representatives from the Make Our Food Safe campaign





Major public health, consumer and food safety groups have launched the Make Our Food Safe Campaign (, including the American Public Health Association, Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, National Consumers League, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Safe Tables Our Priority, and Trust for America’s Health.


For information on the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention (CFI):