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Food Safety Issue Wins Pulitzer Prize

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, April 13, 2010 11:00 AM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Pulitzer Prize, E. Coli, Food Safety, FDA, Foodborne Illness

A story about the horrors of E. coli has won a Pulitzer Prize, along with other stories of injury.
Stephanie Smith

The Horrors of E. Coli

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IMAGE SOURCE: New York Times Web site/ video on Stephanie Smith

The New York Times and reporter, Michael Moss, have won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting about the victim of an E.coli contaminated hamburger.

Stephanie Smith was a Minnesota dance instructor who ate a hamburger produced by Cargill Inc. in September 2007.

23-year-old Smith is now paralyzed from the waist down. She nearly died and will require a kidney transplant.

Using confidential corporate and government records, Moss traced the contaminated hamburger patty, made from low-grade beef trimmings supplied from feces-filled slaughterhouses in the U.S. and Uruguay, that were treated with ammonia and go largely unregulated.

The seven-member Pulitzer committee says that Moss won “for relentless reporting on contaminated hamburger and other food safety issues that, in print and online, spotlighted defects in federal regulations and led to improved practices.”

The prize also comes with a $10,000 award.

Moss writes :

"The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled 'American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties.' Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria."

Smith has sued Cargill. Attorney Bill Marler writes that manufacturer, Cargill has admitted it is “strictly liable for Ms. Smith's injuries.” Settlement attempts have been unsuccessful.

As investigative reporting suffers from the downturn in reporting, the Pulitzer committee opted to move the story to “explanatory reporting” which illuminates a complex subject with clear, lucid writing.

The Associated Press writes about other Pulitzer Prize stories dealing with safety include: ProPublica on the life and death decisions made by exhausted doctors following hurricane Katrina; “Cashing in on Kids” chronicles fraud and abuse in child-care program for low-wage workers by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; the New York Times on the dangers of distracted driving by Matt Richtel; Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post on the dangers of parents who unintentionally leave their kids in hot cars fatally injuring them.   #


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