Timeline: Deaths and Illnesses Caused by Food Contamination
Compiled by the U.S. News library staff
August 2006February 2007: Salmonella-tainted peanut butter from the Peter Pan and Great Value brands sickened hundreds of people in 44 states. The CDC is still investigating how a Georgia manufacturing plant was contaminated.
NovemberDecember: 71 people became sick with E. coli after eating at Taco Bell restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The fast-food chain initially blamed its green onion supply, though investigations by the CDC later suggested that lettuce was the source of the problem.
SeptemberOctober: Prewashed, bagged spinach from Dole was contaminated with E. coli. At least 205 consumers fell ill; three died. Investigators traced the strain back to the field in California and said that in this instance, washing could not have removed the bacteria.
Fall: Pilgrim's Pride recalled over 27 million pounds of frozen and prepared poultry products after listeria was found at one of its Pennsylvania processing plants. Eight people died, and 50 became seriously ill in the ensuing outbreak.
The Malt-o-Meal cereal company recalled approximately 3 million pounds of its Toasty-O's cereal after the product was found to contain salmonella. Nearly 200 people, many of them children, got sick. According to the CDC, this was the first time a manufactured cereal was linked to salmonella transmission.
Hot dogs and lunch meats from Sara Lee became tainted with listeria following mechanical work at the manufacturing plant. At least 15 died, and six miscarriages were attributed to the outbreak. Eighty customers also became seriously ill.
August: After 17 people in Colorado contracted E. coli from eating hamburgers, supplier Hudson Foods recalled 25 million pounds of frozen patties. At the time, this was the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
Spring: The CDC noticed something unusual: Hundreds of Michigan children and schoolteachers were diagnosed with hepatitis A. Investigators discovered that a contaminated shipment of strawberries had been imported the previous year and mislabeled as domestic. The strawberries were used in frozen desserts and served with school lunches. Ultimately, over 9,000 students were vaccinated.
Shipments of Guatemalan raspberries were contaminated with the intestinal parasite cyclospora. An estimated 1,500 in the U.S. and Canada became infected before the cause was found. Investigators blamed the problem on unhygienic growing conditions. In response, the U.S. halted importation of the Guatemalan fruit. The ban was partially lifted in 1999.
In the past decade, thousands have become sick with food-borne illnesses like E. coli and salmonella after eating raw sprouts. Over 22,000 illnesses and two deaths have been traced to these outbreaks. The FDA estimates that 20 percent of all produce-related illnesses are from sprouts and recommends that diners avoid eating the vegetable raw.
January: Four children died and at least 700 became ill after eating hamburgers from Washington state Jack in the Box fast-food restaurants. The meat was tainted with E. coli, and the burgers had not been cooked to a high-enough temperature to kill the bacteria. The scale of the outbreak brought national attention to the issue of food safety and prompted the development of PulseNet, a program that links data from the CDC and state health departments.
In one of the first large-scale listeria outbreaks in the United States, shipments of Jalisco's Mexican-style soft cheese were found to contain the bacterium. Eighteen people died, and 30 infant deaths and stillbirths were connected to the contamination.
April: Salmonella in milk sickened thousands and killed at least three throughout the Midwest. Investigators cited improper pasteurization at the processing plant.
In Oregon, members of a commune led by guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh tried to influence a local land-use vote by spreading salmonella to their neighbors. Members of the group produced the bacterium in a lab and poisoned food at 10 local restaurants. No one died, but 751 people became ill.
Another large-scale recall of botulism-tainted canned foodsthis time, improperly canned Alaskan salmon. At least one Belgian man died after eating the fish.
Seventy-five million cans of mushroom pieces were pulled from grocery stores following reports that they contained botulism. Some consumers reported seeing swollen cans on store shelves.
After a New York man died of botulism from eating Bon Vivant brand vichyssoise, the Food and Drug Administration launched a full investigation, confiscating more than 1 million cans of the company's products. No one else became sick, but the company filed for bankruptcy one month later.