The Dangers of a Foodborne Illness Outbreak

What is a Foodborne Illness Outbreak?

When a toxin, virus, or bacteria cause an illness and are linked to the same food, it is considered an outbreak. An estimate from the CDC outbreak investigations states that nearly 1 in 6 Americans become ill from food poisoning each year. Food safety can make a big difference in disease control prevention.

Prominent Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in the United States-


Spinach contaminated with the toxin E. coli was responsible for a 2006 outbreak. It resulted in 199 illnesses in 26 states. Over 100 people needed to be hospitalized and another 31 developed hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) which is a type of kidney failure.


Salmonella is a common cause of foodborne illness. In 2008, peanut butter contaminated with salmonella was responsible for causing 714 people in 46 states to become ill. Approximately 170 people needed hospitalization from food poisoning.


Cantaloupes grown on a farm in Colorado contributed to a 2011 outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes. The cantaloupes were recalled but not before causing those who consumed them to become extremely ill. Of the 150 people who became sick, 143 were sent to the hospital.


Another outbreak of E. coli 0157-H7 occurred in 2013. This time, ready-to-eat salads had become contaminated thanks to a bad source of romaine lettuce from a farm in California. A total of 33 illnesses and 7 hospitalizations were reported in 4 states. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recalled the salads.


In 2014, Texas residents were exposed to Cyclospora infections. The 304 cases were linked back to tainted cilantro that came from Mexico.


A massive outbreak of Salmonella Poona caused 907 illnesses. Due to contaminated cucumbers from 204 people from 40 states were hospitalized.


Commercial chicken salad was linked to a 2015 outbreak of Escherichia coli O157-H7. It caused 19 illnesses in 7 states. 5 of those people were brought to the hospital and at least 2 developed kidney failure hemolytic-uremic syndrome.


More than 50 states saw hospitalizations when an outbreak of Hepatitis A occurred. Frozen strawberries were found to be the cause of over 143 illnesses in 9 states. Almost all of the illnesses came from drinking a smoothie containing which contained bad strawberries from cafes located in a limited geographical area.


An investigation found that alfalfa sprouts produced by multiple farmers were the source of a Salmonella Muenchen and Salmonella Kentucky outbreak. It infected 32 people in 13 states and 10 people were hospitalized. Sprouts are a common source of foodborne illness. Children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind.

Worst Foodborne Illness Outbreak in US History

2009- PCA peanut butter
The Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) needed to recall over 3,600 peanut butter products due to a Salmonella outbreak. According to CDC, 714 people became ill and nine died from consuming PCA's peanut butter. The outbreak, and subsequent recall, caused PCA to go bankrupt.

2011- Cargill ground turkey
36 million pounds of Cargill ground turkey was recalled in 2011. It was suspected that the meat became contaminated with a strain of Salmonella that was resistant to antibiotic treatment. This outbreak caused 136 illness in 34 states with at least one fatality.

2013- Foster Farms chicken
Foster Farms brand chicken products caused a total of 634 Salmonella infections in 2013. The illnesses spread across 29 states and Puerto Rico. Foster Farms company issued a voluntary recall on all their poultry products.

2015- Mexican cucumbers
Cucumbers imported from Mexico infected 907 people with Salmonella. This outbreak resulted in the hospitalization of more than 200 persons over 40 states and included six deaths. The distributor, Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, issued two separate recalls of the product.

1993- Jack in the Box hamburgers
Hundreds of people fell ill and four others died in Washington and California from eating contaminated meat at Jack in the Box. This outbreak caused a national panic which almost brought an end to the fast-food chain. As a result of the outbreak, stronger government regulations of food handling were introduced.

2006- Dole baby spinach
In September of 2006, the Food and Drug Administration linked uncooked spinach tainted with E. coli to an outbreak of infections in 26 states. During the outbreak, Dole recalled their entire inventory of bagged spinach from market shelves across the country. There were 205 reported cases of diarrhea and dehydration, 31 cases of kidney failure, and 3 people died. Further investigation showed contamination may have started at a cattle ranch which leased land to a spinach farmer.

2006- Taco Bell fast food
In December, an E. coli outbreak from Taco Bell affected 71 customers across five states. Eight people developed kidney failure, and 53 people were hospitalized. The outbreak came from contaminated originating in California before being shipped out to Taco Bell. After the outbreak, stricter standards for handling lettuce were introduced.

2015- Chipotle Mexican Grill fast food
An E. coli outbreak occurred at Chipotle Mexican Grill between October and November of 2015. The initial outbreak saw 55 people in 11 states become ill with 22 reported as hospitalizations. The fast-food chain's second outbreak saw five people fall ill due to a different strain of E. coli. The cause of both cases couldn't be confirmed.

What to Know About Foodborne Illness Outbreak

what to know about foodborne illness outbreak 1616782204 7248

  • Two or more illnesses caused by the same bacteria are considered an outbreak.
  • In the past decade, foodborne illness outbreaks have occurred on every continent.
  • The CDC estimates nearly 1 in 6 Americans become ill from food poisoning each year.
  • There have been dozens of high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States over the years.

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