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Dear President Obama,

You're a technophile I have heard. So, I have an improvement to suggest for the FDA, particularly how it deals with food-safety issues.

Here's what the FDA does now.

In the age of web technology, the FDA's methodology is just plain laughable.

I propose a webpage with a database that would enable citizens to submit food-safety alerts.

This should be damn simple. The post office has a list of all addresses in the country. Why can't the FDA create a list of all foods sold in the U.S. plus a list of all food sellers (grocery stores, restaurants, etc.).

Consumers who suspect they have some bad food could go online and within a few clicks select their product and where they bought it from. They could describe the issue, etc.

In the background, the system would monitor products for unusual activities (larger than normal number of alerts) and create an alerting response when something looks wrong.

If the FDA doesn't have the wherewithal to design and create such a system. I would be glad to take this on with my strategic partner Centrax Corporation (they build high-premium e-learning and web programs and could whip this up no problem).

Seriously, the FDA could save lives very simply and at a relatively low cost. Let's just do it.

Thank you Mr. President for considering this.

Please let me know what I'm supposed to do with the yogurt in my refrigerator that tastes bad. If you think I'm going to call one of those numbers, you just don't get it.

–A worried citizen/consumer

Update Thursday April 16th

Yesterday I decided I should make those calls. I called the yogurt manufacturer and went to their website and I called my regional FDA hotline person (who called me back today, a day later). Stoneyfield Farm has posted the following recall information (their phone complaint line was horribly implemented with long wait times and no one has gotten back to me from their online complaint system):

Londonderry, NH – April 3, 2009 Stonyfield Farm is
conducting a voluntary recall of Fat Free Plain Quarts in Stonyfield
Farm branded containers limited to specific dates. The products are
being recalled because they may contain a presence of food grade
sanitizer.

Affected products are limited to Stonyfield Farm 32 ounce Fat Free
Plain yogurt UPC # 52159 00006 carrying one of the following product
codes printed along the cup bottom that start with the following date
codes:
· May 06 09 Time stamped 22:17 thru 23:59 (limited to these specific time stamps only)
· May 07 09 All time stamps

Approximately 44,000 quarts were distributed to retail accounts nationally.

We have received several reports of people noticing an off-taste
when eating the product. We have received no reports of illness of any
kind after consuming the product.

The issue was a result of human error in not following our Company's
standard operating procedures. Stonyfield has taken all the necessary
corrective action to prevent this from occurring again.

Consumers are advised not to consume the product and to return
opened and unopened containers to the store where it was purchased.
Anyone returning these products will be reimbursed for the full value
of their purchase.

Customers with questions should contact Stonyfield Farm Consumer Relations at 1-800-Pro-Cows (776-2697) or visit our website at www.stonyfield.com.

This is listed on their website when I checked today. I didn't notice it yesterday (they have a very busy home page), but it probably was there.

Note to Stonyfield Farm: 

I am not satisfied with your announcement stating, "We have received several reports of people noticing an off-taste
when eating the product. We have received no reports of illness of any
kind after consuming the product."

THAT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!! You should (1) tell us what we ingested, (2) get health experts to provide us with some expert guidance on what symptoms or dangers we might be subject to.

More:

I just called Stonyfield Farm Consumer Hotline again (and actually got through to them today) and the guy said it was a Food-Grade Sanitizer, FDA approved, organic, etc. He told me ingesting it wouldn't hurt me, but I'm not convinced. I told him I wanted to know what it was I ingested. He wouldn't or couldn't tell me. I asked him if I ate a whole container whether it would hurt me…He said no.

Hey Stonyfield. You can do better…

Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts, administered the oath of office for the Presidency of the United States to Barack Obama on Tuesday January 20th, but screwed it up big time while relying on memory, even though the oath is only 35 words long.

He's a very smart guy and thought he could easily recall the words to the oath.

Steven Pinker, linguist and cognitive scientist extraordinaire wrote an op-ed piece in the NY Times trying to explain the cause of problem, but as is often the case with grand theorists, missed a much more practical and important point.

When in situations of high stress, people may be better off relying on external memory aids (performance support tools) than their fallible memories. Actually, this is true for periods of low-stress as well. Our memories are fallible.

Later in the evening of the 20th, Roberts and Obama got back together to perform the task again. Hmmm. Let's see, two of the most powerful people in the world wasting time due to a learning-and-performance failure. What's the ROI on that?

As a person whose career focuses so much on learning, I can't help but notice when learning plays a part in the larger world, and especially in the life of my family, community, and country.

My wife and I, and our daughter, live in the United States. Last night our country elected a new President, Barack Obama.

Right after Republican-party candidate John McCain conceded the election in a very gracious speech, with Democratic-party candidate Barack Obama due to speak to the nation to acknowledge his victory, my wife and I decided to wake up our 5-year-old daughter (she's almost six–a few months really matter at her age).

Both my wife and I have been strong Obama supporters in the general election. For weeks, our daughter has been asking about the election. "Who are you going to vote for?" "Is mommy going to vote for him too?" The questions are repeated and keep coming over time. You can feel her trying to learn how the world works, how we fit into the world. Last night at dinner she said, "I hope Iraq Obama wins." We're still working on getting her to say "Barack."

As we put her to bed, we asked her whether we should wake her up to tell her who won. She said yes.

A little after 11PM, I walked upstairs to her room. In her darkened room she was lying across the bed, her orange sheet covering her body, her bare feet sticking out past the side of the mattress. "Alena, Obama won. Do you want to come downstairs to see him speak?" She popped right up, which is unusual as she usually gets up in a slow series of sleepy disgruntlements. She zoomed downstairs and nudged her way inbetween her mommy and daddy.

We had to wait for Obama to appear. As we gloried in the moment last night, with our daughter between us,
my wife and I were happy parents, proud of our country. Our daughter got to hear the same pledge of allegiance that she
says in her kindergarten classroom every morning. "Do you know
what song that is Alena?" "No." "That's the national anthem. That's our
country's song."

During the wait for Obama, the announcers kept talking about the historic moment, how we were electing our first black President, how women and African Americans hadn't always had the right to vote. Tired, with her head laying on her mommy, then on daddy, then peeking over the sheets laying across us on the couch, she watched and listened and continued to shift back and forth.

"What color skin do you have to have to be President?", she asked. "Any color. You can have any color skin. In the past, a black person couldn't be President, but now they can." "What color skin did they have to have?" "They had to have white skin." "I have both colors (she has some of her mother's Colombian skin)." "Yes, you do, just like him." We point at the TV where Barack Obama is speaking. A moment of quiet reflection. "But a woman can't be President." "Oh yes, a woman can be President. You can be President if you want to." Another moment of quiet reflection, longer this time. Her quiet was surprising because usually when we tell her she can be anything she wants to be, she immediately interrupts and tells us she wants to be a veterinarian because she loves animals.

Alena was riveted to the two Obama girls as they took the stage. When they didn't come out later when the Obamas and Bidens took the stage, she asked where the girls were.

I'm going to bet that my daughter remembers this election. I remember President Kennedy getting shot and killed when I was a little younger than she is now. I remember my mom in tears and not being able to watch cartoons because adult shows preempted the cartoons on the TV. Alena did ask last night if there were any kid shows of the Obama speech. Alas, no…, perhaps a lost opportunity for learning.

Even as a learning expert, it's hard for me to fully fathom how tiny moments have profound learning effects for kids. Some of it is surely emotional and social. Seeing all the faces with tears of joy around the country must have had an impact. Seeing how one's parents cry, beam, and do uncharacteristic things (waking the kids in the middle of the night) must have an effect. Hearing the announcers glow with special rhetoric must make a difference. Seeing all the different types of faces on the stage, brown, white, and in between. Youngsters like the Obama girls. Elders like Biden's fragile steely mom. Hearing Obama's eloquence, his example of the 106 year-old woman voter born before women could vote, must have made a difference. And new research on learning tells us that learning something just before sleeping helps cement that learning. So many factors at play.

I can't help wondering what other wonderful teachable moments we have in store for us. How many teachable moments have already occurred. How this affects not only our children, but us; not only our country, but people around the world. How this has changed us forever.