The World's Biggest Food Poisoning Scares
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.
8) 2002: Listeria
The largest food recall in the U.S. up to that time occurred in 2002, when Pilgrim’s Pride had to recall 27.4 million pounds of sliced deli chicken and turkey after finding listeria in the drain at one of its facilities. 46 people were sickened, 7 died, and 3 women had miscarriages.
7) 2008: Salmonella
The largest peanut butter-borne salmonella outbreak in history also resulted in the most extensive food recall in American history. The company behind it, Peanut Corporation of America, supplied peanut products to institutions like schools, prisons, and nursing homes, and at least 714 people fell ill in 26 states due to salmonella poisoning from their Georgia processing plant, with nine deaths. No major-brand peanut butters were affected, but all peanut butter sales went down by 25 percent after the outbreak, the whole industry taking an estimated $1 billion hit. The Peanut Corporation of America went out of business soon after.
6) 1985: Salmonella
Salmonella-tainted milk from the Hillfarm Dairy in Melrose Park, Ill. sickened more than 16,000 people in 1985, all but about 1,000 of them from Illinois. The worst salmonellosis outbreak in history up to that time, it resulted in at least nine deaths.
5) 1998: Listeria
The Sara Lee Corporation’s Bil Mar Foods division sold hot dogs and cold cuts that were infected with listeria in 1998, resulting in more than 100 poisonings, six miscarriages, and as many as 21 deaths. The company pled guilty to a misdemeanor and was fined $4.4 million.
4) 2008: Listeria
Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods was responsible for the worst food poisoning outbreak in the country’s history, and again cold cuts were the culprit. They were most likely contaminated while being packaged at the North York, Ontario facility, and as a result there were 57 confirmed cases of listeriosis, resulting in 22 deaths. A massive recall cost the company about $20 million, and a class-action lawsuit settled for $27 million.
3) 2011: Listeria
Cantaloupes were the culprit in the second-deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in recent U.S. history. 146 were sickened and 30 died after eating the melon from Holly, Colorado-based Jensen Farms, which had shipped to 25 states. Jensen Farms recalled the entire crop of 300,000 cantaloupes that it had distributed to chain stores including Wal-Mart, but by then it was too late.
2) 2011: E. Coli
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The worst food poisoning outbreak in recent European history occurred in 2011, with fenugreek sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony being the source of infection. 3,950 people were infected and 53 died, 51 of whom were in Germany.
1) 1985: Listeria
The worst food poisoning outbreak since the CDC began tracking them was the result of tainted Mexican-style cheese. The California-based company responsible, Jalisco, relied on a non-licensed technician to pasteurize their milk, and he likely diluted the pasteurized milk with non-pasteurized milk before it was turned into queso fresco and shipped to Los Angeles and Orange Counties. 142 people came down with listeriosis, 96 percent of them Hispanic, 66 percent of them pregnant women or their newborns. In all, 52 were killed, including 19 stillbirths and 10 infants. The company’s owner and its head cheese-maker served 30 and 60 days in prison, respectively, and paid fines totaling $48,000, and the company shut down permanently.