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6 Most Expensive Food Outbreaks in History

 Posted on September 07, 2023 in Uncategorized


Foodborne illnesses have long been a substantial challenge to public health, affecting millions of individuals around the world each year. The United States, in particular, bears witness to an estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses annually, resulting in thousands of hospitalizations and fatalities. While simple food safety practices play a pivotal role in minimizing the risk of outbreaks, history is peppered with instances where negligence or unforeseen circumstances have led to catastrophic and costly food-related crises.

From tainted produce to contaminated meat, the world has witnessed some of the most expensive food outbreaks in history. These outbreaks not only take a toll on public health but also inflict significant economic damage on industries, governments, and affected individuals. Continue reading to learn about the six most expensive food outbreaks in history.

1. Peanut Products

One of the most expensive foodborne illness outbreaks in recent memory was caused by Salmonella-contaminated peanut products distributed by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA). According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this outbreak affected more than 700 individuals in 46 states, resulting in nine deaths. The consequences for PCA were severe, leading to bankruptcy, criminal charges for company executives, and a wide-scale recall of more than 3,200 products.

The ramifications of the recall extended well beyond the scope of Peanut Corp. merchandise. Many consumers refrained from purchasing peanut butter, even from brands that remained unaffected by the outbreak. Consequently, there was a significant decline in sales of peanut products from 2008 to 2009. This downturn had widespread implications for various entities, spanning from peanut farmers and manufacturers to retailers and even charitable food distribution organizations. The financial toll of this outbreak surpassed $1 billion.

2. Westland/Hallmark Meat

The Westland/Hallmark Meat Company outbreak, a distressing incident in 2008, sent shockwaves through the food industry and beyond. This outbreak was rooted in a convergence of food safety lapses that allowed for the processing and distribution of beef products deemed unfit for human consumption. The company, one of the largest suppliers of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program, faced allegations of inhumane animal handling practices, improper record-keeping, and violations of safety regulations.

This outbreak triggered a massive recall of approximately 143 million pounds of beef, making it one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history. Beyond the staggering amount of recalled products, this outbreak raised poignant questions about the integrity of the food supply chain and the vital need for strict adherence to food safety protocols. The incident highlighted the severe repercussions of neglecting food safety standards, leading to economic losses, legal consequences, and, most importantly, endangering public health.

3. Tomatoes

In May of 2008, CDC and FDA issued a nationwide recall of one of the most beloved vegetables; tomatoes. As per reports, a type of Salmonella had contaminated tomatoes, resulting in over 100 hospitalizations and several deaths. After extensive research, the real cause of the outbreak was traced back to a farm located in Mexico. Because the recall caused farmers to lose thousands of dollars, they decided to destroy the remaining crops. The Salmonella-tomato outbreak caused the industry to lose over $250 million.

4. Jack in the Box Burgers

A widely-publicized outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in 1993 originating from undercooked ground beef served at Jack in the Box restaurants shook the fast-food industry. It sparked a nationwide conversation about food safety. The outbreak led to over 700 reported cases of illness and four deaths. The company faced both massive lawsuits and a significant drop in sales. T

The total cost of this outbreak, including medical expenses, legal settlements, and lost revenue, exceeded $200 million. The most heart-breaking fact about the food outbreak was that despite the contamination of raw meat, cooking it at a temperature of 63.3°C or 155°F could have prevented the outbreak.   

5. Odwalla Apple Juice

Odwalla, a company that takes pride in manufacturing healthy food products, learned a lifetime lesson and faced a hefty lawsuit in 1996 when their E. coli-contaminated apple juice caused food poisoning in hundreds of people and resulted in the death of a 16-month-old child. The recall of the product caused the company a loss of $12 million, $1.5 million in lawsuits and the federal fine, and a significant loss in sales.

Odwalla owners pleaded ignorance, stating they didn’t know that E. coli strains could survive in apple juice. As a result, not only Odwalla but the entire industry changed its production and packing technique. They now started to pasteurize the apple juice before packing it.

6. Sara Lee Deli Products

Sara Lee Deli products recall is one of the most expensive food outbreaks globally. The Listeria monocytogenes outbreak was traced back to contaminated meat produced by the Bil Mar Foods division of Sara Lee Corporation. It affected 100 people across 22 states and resulted in 21 deaths and numerous hospitalizations. Under the guidance of regulatory authorities, Sara Lee issued a voluntary recall of 35 million pounds of ready-to-eat meat products. While the food recall cost was approximately $76 million, the company had to spend an additional $25 million on the renovation of its production plant.

Seek Justice for Food Outbreak – Talk to Newland & Newland, LLP

Have you suffered the agony of food poisoning due to the negligence of restaurants or food suppliers? Don’t let our pain and mental anguish go answered. At Newland & Newland, LLP, our mission is to provide you with top-tier legal representation that eases your burden and paves the way for recovery. Let us be your voice in the courtroom, demanding justice and fair compensation. Still in doubt?

We have helped victims of the Salmonella outbreak by getting an $11,000,000 settlement, over $1,000,000 for Chicago food outbreaks, and a $130,000.00 financial reward for two people poisoned at a funeral luncheon.

Take the first step towards healing by calling us today. We serve multiple locations, including Arlington Heights, Chicago, Libertyville, Crystal Lake, Joliet, and Itasca.

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