The 10 Biggest Food Recalls in American History

Listeria, salmonella, E. coli — food recalls are serious business
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The 10 Biggest Food Recalls in American History

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Food recalls are no fun for anybody involved. Hundreds of millions of pounds of foods have been pulled from the market for various reasons in the past several decades. We’ve rounded up the 10 biggest recalls from this time. 

#10 Wright Country/ Hillandale Farms Eggs, 2010

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More than half a billion eggs were recalled in 2010 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked a salmonella outbreak to a plant in Iowa. More than 1,900 people were infected by the outbreak, but, thankfully, no deaths were reported. 

#9 Menu Foods Pet Food, 2007

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Wheat gluten linked to a Chinese supplier used by a pet food company called Menu Foods, was the source of a major recall in 2007. The gluten was contaminated with a chemical called melamine, which causes kidney failure when consumed. After the deaths of 14 cats and dogs, the company recalled about 60 million cans and packages of their pet food. 

#8 ConAgra Beef, 2002

After 19 people fell ill with E. coli in six states in 2009, the outbreak was traced back to a ConAgra beef Company plant in Greeley, Colorado. More than 19 million pounds of the ground beef, made from contaminated “beef trim,” was recalled, much of it having already been consumed by the time the recall was issued. The meat was sold to wholesalers who ground, mixed, and repackaged it for grocery chains. 

#7 Topps Meats Frozen Ground Beef Patties, 2007

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Thirty people in eight states were sickened by E. coli after eating hamburgers made with frozen ground beef patties produced by Topps Meat Company in 2007, leading the company to recall 21.7 million pounds of ground meat — an entire year’s worth of production. Six days after issuing the recall, the company, which was at the time the country’s leading seller of frozen hamburger patties, shut down operations permanently. 

#6 Peanut Corporation of America, 2007–2008

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Over the course of two years, the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly shipped peanut products that included a virulent strain of salmonella across the United States and Canada, leading to eight deaths and sickening more than 600 people. The company made peanut butter as well as peanut meal that was processed by other manufacturers into other foods, so more than 3,200 products in total were recalled. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, and the recall sent shockwaves through the entire peanut industry.  

#5 Hudson Beef, 1997

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The largest food recall of all time when it occurred, this one affected more than 25 million pounds of ground beef produced by Hudson Beef. The meat was contaminated with E. coli, and sickened at least 16 people. Hudson lost its contract with Burger King, and the company was sold later that year. 

#4 Pilgrim’s Pride Frozen Turkey and Chicken, 2002

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Pilgrim’s Pride, the second-largest American poultry company behind Tyson, issued a massive recall of 27.4 million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and turkey products in 2002 after listeria was discovered at a plant in Franconia, Pennsylvania. The outbreak resulted in 46 illnesses, seven deaths, and three stillbirths or miscarriages, and the plant shut down for good in 2006. 

#3 Cargill Ground Turkey, 2011

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One person died and 75 were sickened due to contaminated ground turkey sold by Cargill, leading to the recall of more than 35 million pounds of the turkey in August 2011. The offending plant was shut down, the source of the contamination was discovered, and it reopened a week later, but less than a month after that the same salmonella strain was found again, leading to a second, smaller recall. 

#2 Sara Lee Deli Products and Hot Dogs, 1998

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Sara Lee was forced to recall 35 million pounds (nearly 16,000 tons) of deli meat and hot dogs in December 1998 after it was discovered that their products were sickening people with listeria. More than 100 people were infected and 21 died, and the recall cost the company more than $100 million. 

#1 Westland/ Hallmark Beef, 2008

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The largest food recall in history wasn’t the result of illness, but of inhumane practices uncovered by the Humane Society of the United States.  The group released video of employees at Hallmark/ Westland meat in California mistreating sick cows on January 30, 2008, and the USDA took notice and uncovered the fact that the company failed to alert inspectors when cows were too ill to walk before slaughter, conditions which could lead to an increased risk of mad cow disease. The USDA requested that the company recall a whopping 143 million pounds of beef, spanning two years of production, even though most of it had already been consumed and the health risks were remote.