Food Safety Reporter Wins 2010 Pulitzer Prize

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By Consumers Union on Monday, April 12th, 2010


From Pulitzer.org:

For a distinguished example of explanatory reporting that illuminates a significant and complex subject, demonstrating mastery of the subject, lucid writing and clear presentation, in print or online or both, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to Michael Moss and members of The New York Times Staff for relentless reporting on contaminated hamburger and other food safety issues that, in print and online, spotlighted defects in federal regulation and led to improved practices.

Michael Moss broke a number of stories regarding E. coli found in hamburgers including an article that blew the doors off of beef used for school lunch programs. From his December 31, 2009 article:

But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and
salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and Salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated.  The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

In July, school lunch officials temporarily banned their hamburger makers from using meat from a Beef Products facility in Kansas because of salmonella — the third suspension in three years, records show. Yet the facility remained approved by the U.S.D.A. for other customers.

Presented by The Times with the school lunch test results, top department officials said they were not aware of what their colleagues in the lunch program had been finding for years.

He also covered the story of Stephanie Smith whose life was devastated by E. coli:

Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor, thought she had a stomach virus. The aches and cramping were tolerable that first day, and she finished her classes.

Then her diarrhea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed.

Ms. Smith, 22, was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.

“I ask myself every day, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why from a hamburger?'” Ms. Smith said. In the simplest terms, she ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance whose rules and risks are not widely known.

Congratulations to Mr. Moss and The New York Times for their well earned award. We look forward to your continued coverage on important food safety issues. We hope journalism will continue to help us in our efforts in pushing to reform meat testing and preventing future E. coli outbreaks.

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