The Seven Worst Food Poisoning Outbreaks in Recent Years

By Bill O'Mara, Chesapeake Injury Lawyer

On the back of an E. coli outbreak that scared away customers, Chipotle has been giving away free burritos to in an attempt to convince people its food is safe to eat. It certainly wasn’t one of the worst mass food poisoning outbreaks in recent years, but it hurt Chipotle’s brand.

Food poisoning outbreaks can be frightening and even deadly. They can not only destroy the reputation of a brand, but they can have very serious implications for public health.

Contaminated cantaloupes led to the death of 33 people in 2011

Contaminated cantaloupes led to the death of 33 people in 2011

The Denver chain closed its stores for a few hours last month so employees could participate in a food safety meeting. Customers shunned Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. restaurants for months in the wake of two E. coli outbreaks and a norovirus incident in 2015.

In recent year US consumers have been hit by some very mass food poisoning outbreaks. Here are seven of the worst.

America’s Worst Food Poisoning Outbreaks

1 Jalisco Cheese Causes Listeria – 1985

For a six-month period in 1985, a major listeriosis outbreak hit residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties, killing up to 40 people who ate Jalisco cheese. An investigation found the victims – among them 10 infants - had eaten a Mexican-style soft cheese produced by Jalisco Cheese.

2 E-Coli at Jack in the Box Restaurants – 1993

Four children died, and hundreds of other customers fell ill in 1993 after they ate contaminated meat from Jack in the Box restaurants in California, Washington, Idaho, Texas, and Nevada. The outbreak almost pushed Jack in the Box out of business.

3 Pilgrim’s Pride Meat Causes Listeria – 2002

A widespread listeria outbreak linked to contaminated meat affected people living in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Michigan in 2002. Sliced turkey deli meat from Pilgrim’s Pride Foods of PA caused the mass food poisoning outbreak including seven deaths, resulting in the recall of 27.4 million pounds of turkey.

4 Hepatitis A Outbreak at Chi Chi’s – 2003

Sometimes a single restaurant can be responsible for a food poisoning outbreak. In 2003, a Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Monaca, Pennsylvania caused the death of four people and made hundreds more people ill. They were made sick by hepatitis A-infected green onions from Mexico. The largest Hepatitis A outbreak linked to food in U.S. history took the restaurant chain down with it.

5 Dole Baby Spinach Causes E. Coli – 2006

Two E. coli outbreaks swept the U.S. twice in 2006. A first outbreak occurred in September. The Food and Drug Administration linked the multiple hospitalizations to uncooked spinach in 26 states. The outbreak causes the deaths of three, 31 suffered kidney failure, and 199 people had diarrhea and dehydration. Dole recalled its bagged spinach from shelves across the country. The second outbreak was traced to contaminated lettuce at Taco Bell restaurants.

6 Tainted Peanut Butter Causes Salmonella – 2008 and 2009

A nationwide salmonella outbreak linked to tainted peanut butter at Peanut Corp. of America killed nine people and sickened hundreds in 2008 and 2009. Last year former peanut executive Stewart Parnell was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

7 Listeria in cantaloupes kills 33 in 2011

In 2011, a listeria outbreak traced to the improper cleaning and preparation of cantaloupe at a Colorado farm killed 33 people. Two employees of the farm were later arrested.

While we often write about the role of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding policing drugs and medical devices, it also plays a defining role in making sure the food we buy or eat in restaurants is safe and in recalling dangerous products.

If your health has been harmed by contaminated food, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit against a negligent manufacturer or retailer under the law of product liability. You will need to prove that the food was contaminated, and it made you sick. Call our Virginia product liability attorneys if you believe you have been harmed due to food poisoning at (757) 455-0077.


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