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CNN Classroom Edition: Danger: Poisoned Food

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(CNN Student News) -- Set your VCR to record the CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Danger: Poisoned Food when it airs commercial-free on Monday, July 2, 2007, from 4:00-- 5:00 a.m. ET on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

Last year, more than 350 people got sick or died eating tainted spinach and lettuce. Others became ill after consuming peanut butter contaminated with salmonella. A recent pet food scare has many consumers worried if it could drastically affect human health. In Danger: Poisoned Food, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, investigates current threats to the nation's food supply all the way from the fields and farms to the packaging plants to the grocery store shelves. Dr. Gupta also exposes how the U.S. government's approach to these dangers may be putting Americans at additional risk.

Grade Levels: 7-12

Subject Areas: Health, Science, Current Events


The CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Danger: Poisoned Food and its corresponding discussion questions and activity challenge students to:

  • Learn about some of the factors that currently pose a threat to the safety of the U.S. food supply;
  • Examine the causes and symptoms of common food borne illnesses;
  • Identify ways to prevent and treat different food borne diseases.
  • Curriculum Connections


    Standard 6. Understands essential concepts about nutrition and diet

    Level III [Grade: 6-8]

    Benchmark 4. Knows the principles of food safety involved with food storage and preparation (e.g., proper refrigeration, hand washing, proper cooking and storage temperatures)

    Level IV [Grade: 9-12]

    Benchmark 2. Understands the reliability and validity of various sources of food and nutrition information

    Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (Copyright 2000 McREL) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) ( link), 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, CO 80014; Telephone: 303/337-0990.


    Standard 5. Understands the structure and function of cells and organisms

    Level III [Grade: 6-8]

    Benchmark 1. Knows that all organisms are composed of cells, which are the fundamental units of life; most organisms are single cells, but other organisms (including humans) are multicellular

    Benchmark 8. Knows that disease in organisms can be caused by intrinsic failures of the system or infection by other organisms

    Level IV [Grade: 9-12]

    Benchmark 1. Knows the structures of different types of cell parts

    Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (Copyright 2000 McREL) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) ( link), 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, CO 80014; Telephone: 303/337-0990.

    Discussion Questions

    1. What is E. coli, and how is it spread? Why is E.coli 0157: H7 so virulent? What symptoms are associated with E. coli infection?

    2. How did E. coli poisoning impact Ruby Trouts, Ashley Armstrong and her family?

    3. Why was spinach banned from grocery stores in the fall of 2006? How did health officials identify the source of the contamination? To what extent, if any, did this spinach ban impact you?

    4. What measures is California farmer Rod Braga taking to keep his produce from becoming contaminated by E. coli? What are the biggest risk factors for contamination?

    5. What role does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) play in promoting food safety in the U.S.? According to Robert Bracket, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, what measures is the FDA is currently taking to prevent outbreaks of E. Coli in leafy greens? What challenges does the FDA face in terms of preventing contamination of leafy greens?

    6. Why does Andrew Kimbrell, head of the Center for Food Safety, feel that food safety in the United States "is broken"? What criticisms does he make about the FDA? Based on the information in the program, do you think that these accusations are warranted? Why or why not?

    7. According to lawyer Bill Marler, what measures should farmers and the U.S. government be taking to enhance the safety of leafy green vegetables?

    8. How did the E.coli outbreaks of 1992 and 1993 impact the U.S. meat industry? What changes did the meat industry implement to improve food safety as a result of these outbreaks?

    9. What is eradiation, and how is it used to promote food safety? Why do you think that some people might be reluctant to eat eradiated food? What is your view on eradiating food? Do you think that all raw meat and fresh produce should be eradiated? Why or why not?

    10. In your view, what might the FDA, farmers, food processors and retailers do to enhance the safety of leafy greens and other fresh produce? Do you think that government food safety rules should be voluntary or mandatory? State your rationale.

    11. To what extent, if any, did this program impact your views on food safety? Do you think that the convenience of eating pre-washed bagged produce is worth the risk? State your rationale.

    Suggested Activity

    Food Borne Illnesses

    Ask students: Have you ever had food poisoning? If so, how did it make you feel? Point out that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Every year an estimated 76 million cases of food borne illness and 5,000 associated deaths occur in the United States." Next, divide students into four groups, and assign each group one of the following common food borne diseases:

  • Campylobacter,
  • Salmonella,
  • E. coli 0157:H7,
  • Calicivirus (also known as the Norwalk-like virus).
  • Have each group conduct research to learn about its assigned food borne illness and how consumers can protect themselves from contracting the disease.

    Pose the following questions to guide students' research:

  • What happens to the body after a person ingests the microbes that produce the disease?
  • How is the disease diagnosed?
  • Can the illness be treated? If so, how?
  • Are there possible long-term secondary illnesses? If so, what are they?
  • What can consumers do to ensure that the food that they purchase is safe?
  • How can consumers tell if vegetables are fresh?
  • Why is personal hygiene important in the kitchen?
  • What role do sponges and dishrags play in the spread of food borne illnesses?
  • What are the best ways to handle meat, poultry, fish and produce?
  • Under what conditions should perishable foods be stored?
  • What can people do to protect themselves from food borne illnesses when they eat in restaurants?
  • To what extent are food borne diseases changing, and why?
  • Have groups deliver formal presentations of their findings to a panel of experts that is comprised of:

  • a local food retailer,
  • a restaurant owner,
  • a government food safety expert, and
  • a physician.
  • (If you are unable to convene a group of professionals, select four students to role play their parts.) Encourage the panel to provide constructive feedback and additional information to the students.

    After the presentations, have students draw upon their findings and the panel's feedback to create a PowerPoint presentation for their peers entitled "Food borne Illnesses: Causes and Prevention." Have groups take turns delivering the presentation to different classes at their school.


    E. coli 0157:H7, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contaminated food, spinach, produce, bacteria, germs, microorganisms, sanitize, infection



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