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10 of the Worst Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in History

 Posted on April 17, 2023 in Foodborne illness


A foodborne illness outbreak is when two or more people experience a similar illness after ingesting a common meal or food. According to a report by the CDC, every 1 in 6 Americans is a victim of a foodborne illness annually, accounting for 3000 deaths and 128,000 hospitalizations. You can easily get food poisoning by consuming food with pathogens due to unsafe handling practices, contaminants that stay on food during the production process or as a result of being stored in dirty warehouses. Read on to learn about the worst foodborne illness outbreaks in the history of the United States.

Salmonella Outbreak

Salmonella is a bacteria that kills the cells in your intestinal walls, causing severe food poisoning. The symptoms of Salmonella (abdominal cramp, fever, and diarrhea) appear within 12 hours to 3 days after eating the contaminated food and automatically disappear within 4 to 7 days. Treatment for Salmonella includes electrolytes, antibiotics, fluids, and medications.

1. 2015 – Mexican Cucumbers

Cucumbers imported from Mexico in 2015 contained Salmonella strains that infected approximately 407 people in about 40 states. Distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, the outbreak resulted in 6 deaths and 200 hospitalizations.

2. 2011 – Cargill Ground Turkey

Accounting for 136 illnesses in 34 states, Cargill ordered its officials to recall about 36 million pounds of ground turkey after the suspicion of it being contaminated with Salmonella. However, the foodborne illness caused only one death.

3. 2009 – PCA Peanut Butter

In 2009, the now-bankrupt Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) experienced one of the worst Salmonellosis (Typhimurium) outbreaks in history. Even though most of the peanut butter jars were recalled by the company, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported nine deaths and 714 sick people due to contaminated products.  

Listeria Outbreak

Listeriosis is an infection primarily affecting older adults, newborns, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems. Listeria symptoms include confusion, loss of balance, headaches, fever, seizures, fatigue, and muscle aches. Antibiotics are the best treatment for foodborne illness.

4. 2011 – Cantaloupes

A CDC report stated that 33 people out of 147 died after eating contaminated cantaloupe in 2011. The investigators traced the outbreak to the packing facility of Jensen Farm in Holly, Colorado.

5. 2002 – Pilgrim’s Pride Turkey Meat

Affecting the people of Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, Pilgrim’s Pride’s sliced turkey deli meat caused a deadly listeria outbreak. The foodborne illness resulted in 3 stillbirths and 7 deaths.

6. 1998 – 1999 – Hotdogs

Between 1998 and 1999, a Listeria outbreak affected deli meats and hotdogs of several brands across the state, including Bryan Bunsize, Ball Park, Sara Lee Deli Meat, Sara Lee Home Roast Brands, Mr. Turkey, Hygrade, and Bil Mar. The outbreak affected 100 people, causing 4 miscarriages and 14 deaths.

7. 1985 – Jalisco Products Cheese

Known as one of the longest Listeria outbreaks, contaminated cheese in Jalisco Products caused 20 miscarriages and the deaths of 18 adults and 10 newborns. The foodborne illness affected 142 residents of Los Angeles County.

E. Coli Outbreak

E. Coli are rod-shaped bacteria that live in the lower intestine of animals and humans. However, some strains of E. Coli can cause severe food poisoning, resulting in diarrhea, bloody stools, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever. The disease can be self-treated by drinking fluids and getting rest. In case of a serious infection, the doctor will prescribe you anti-diarrhea medications and antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications.  

8. 2015 – Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill is one of the most famous Mexican cuisine eateries in the US. However, between October and November of 2015, the restaurant reported a massive E. Coli outbreak infecting about 11 states and 55 people, out of which 22 were hospitalized.

9. 2006 – Taco Bell

Known for its tacos and burritos, Taco Bell is renowned across the world. In December 2006, an E. Coli outbreak affected approximately 71 customers across 5 states. As per reports, 53 people were hospitalized, and eight developed kidney failure. The restaurant later claimed that the outbreak was due to contaminated lettuce produced in California.

10. 1993 – Jack in the Box

In 1993, four Jack in the Box customers died after eating hamburgers containing contaminated meat. In addition to this, over one hundred people feel sick, causing a national panic. This foodborne illness outbreak resulted in the shutting down of the fast food chain forever.

Preventing Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

Even though food handling regulations, conducting government inspections, and food recalls are effective ways to prevent and control a foodborne illness outbreak, here are some tips to protect yourself from food poisoning:

● Visit the CDC website to learn about the latest food outbreaks and recall announcements.

● Never purchase vegetables and fruits that have been brought into question.

● When it comes to food recall announcements, generalize. This means that if broccoli from one region is recalled, avoid buying or eating broccoli for some time.

● Learn about the manufacturer of frozen, canned, or dried produce.

● Make sure to wash all vegetables and fruits before cooking.

● Follow safe cooking practices.

● Cook meat properly on high heat.

● Do not cross-contaminate food.

● Use an antibacterial cleanser to clean anything that has come in contact with meat juice or meat.  

If you have been a victim of a foodborne illness, minimize the risk of developing complications by seeing a healthcare provider if:

● Diarrhea has lasted for more than 3 days

● Have blood in your stool or vomit

● Have extreme abdominal pain

● Have a blurry vision

● Signs of dehydration include palpitations, dizziness, and decreased urination

● Fever greater than 38.6 degrees Celsius (101.5 degrees Fahrenheit)

Hire a Food Poisoning Attorney Today!

Every year approximately 3000 US citizens die after consuming contaminated food and water. The numbers significantly rise during a crisis such as a foodborne illness outbreak. While the causes can be several, and the symptoms can vary depending on the disease, a Newland & Newland LLP attorney can help you get a financial award for the mental anguish, missed work days, and medical bills. We help the residents of Illinois, Arlington Heights, Elk Grove, Prospect Hts, and Buffalo Grove. Contact us to schedule a free phone consultation right away!


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