History's Worst Food Poisoning Outbreaks

Food poisoning isn’t just unpleasant, it can be deadly

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Tainted peanut butter sickened more than 700 and killed nine in 2008.

There are few things that are less fun than food poisoning. There you are, going about your business, when suddenly you’re nothing short of immobilized, all because you ate the wrong thing. We’ve rounded up the ten worst food poisoning outbreaks in recent history.

History's Worst Food Poisoning Outbreaks (Slideshow)

When we’re at a restaurant, we just assume that all the food has been stored properly, prepared under sanitary conditions, and thrown out when it got too old to serve. While the majority of restaurants adhere to strict sanitary guidelines, there are plenty that don’t, and when there’s one little slip-up, lots of people can suffer the consequences.

There are plenty of different varieties of food poisoning out there, as well. You’ve got your Listeria, your salmonella, your botulism, your streptococcus, your hepatitis A, and who can forget good old E. coli? Foodborne illness can come from many different sources, but in many cases it’s due to undercooked meat, uncooked items that have come in contact with the same surfaces as raw meat being consumed, and raw vegetables not being washed properly.

When a restaurant gives a customer food poisoning, they’ll usually refund the customer’s money, issue a heartfelt apology, and take a look at what went wrong while hoping they don’t get sued. But when a chain restaurant gives a customer food poisoning, dozens, if not hundreds, of customers are usually affected because so many people are served the same exact product, and the company can really find itself in hot water.

Mass foodborne illness outbreaks can destroy the reputations (and the bank accounts) of the companies involved, and in some cases it takes years (and smart marketing campaigns) to convince the public that there’s no longer any threat. Many of the worst foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years have been the responsibility of some big and well-known food producers, as well. Read on to learn about the 10 biggest food poisoning outbreaks since the Centers for Disease Control began tracking them in the 1970s.

10) 2003: Hepatitis A

The most widespread hepatitis A outbreak in U.S. history occurred thanks to tainted green onions at a Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Monaca, Penn. At least 640 people were affected, and four died. The outbreak made national news, and Chi-Chi’s reputation never really recovered.

9) 1993: E. coli

732 people were affected by the most infamous food poisoning outbreak in history, which nearly forced Jack in the Box out of business. 73 locations across California, Idaho, Washington, and Nevada served undercooked patties (a specially promoted “Monster Burger” wasn’t cooked long enough to kill off the bacteria). Four people died, all of them children, and 178 others were left with permanent damage. 

Click here to learn about the 8 worst food poisoning outbreaks on record. 


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