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Book review: 'Poisoned' details case that changed food industry

Published: Saturday, May 21 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Who isn't fascinated with a novel containing heartbreaking and mysterious deaths, young maverick lawyers and compelling drama?

The unique thing about Jeff Benedict's new book, "Poisoned," is that it's nonfiction.

"Poisoned" is the true account of the most seminal food-borne illness outbreaks in the past 50 years. E. coli food poisoning from undercooked hamburgers killed four, causing sickness and suffering for 700 others in 1993.

"No outbreak in the past 25 years compares to the food scare that swept the country in January 1993," Benedict wrote.

The book went on sale Tuesday and is already among the top-selling books on Amazon.com at just fewer than 100,000 copies.

Benedict, an author and investigative journalist, said the story is shaped by law, medicine, politics and business. At the core, though, the story is about ordinary people swept up in an extraordinary tragedy. His primary objective was to tell the epic story in a manner that is true to the characters involved in the historic case.

"I am indebted to the victims and the survivors who were willing to endure some emotionally grueling interviews," he wrote in the author's note.

The narrative is meticulously researched and full of insightful details from all angles and sources. The opening chapters, which describe the hospitalization and excruciating stomach pain felt by 6-year-old victim Lauren Rudolph, are especially gut-wrenching for any parent to read.

Readers will also be intrigued to learn the story of attorney Bill Marler. While litigating against Jack in the Box for their pink patties and trying to keep his new firm from going under, he simultaneously settled a dispute with his old firm.

On the other side of the lawsuit, characters like Robert Nugent, president of Jack In The Box, experienced some of the scariest moments of their professional lives. An interview Nugent had with ABC's Meredith Vieira, which aired in 1994, was very interesting to digest.

What stands out the most is how the food industry changed as a result of the outbreak. "The Jack in the Box case is considered the meat industry's 9/11," Benedict said. Farmer markets and organic farms exploded. Public food safety awareness was changed forever.

"Despite the terrible human loss associated with this case, a remarkable number of things were done right in the aftermath. It has forever changed how I look at what I eat," Benedict wrote.

If you go...

What: Jeff Benedict speaking and book signing

When: Tuesday, May 24, 7 p.m.

Where: The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City. Web: kingsenglish.com

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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