List of food contamination incidents

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Food may be accidentally or deliberately contaminated by microbiological, chemical or physical hazards. In contrast to microbiologically caused foodborne illness, the link between exposure and effect of chemical hazards in foods is usually complicated by cumulative low doses and the delay between exposure and the onset of symptoms. Chemical hazards include environmental contaminants, food ingredients (such as iodine), heavy metals, mycotoxins, natural toxins, improper storage, processing contaminants, and veterinary medicines. Incidents have occurred because of poor harvesting or storage of grain, use of banned veterinary products, industrial discharges, human error and deliberate adulteration and fraud.[1]

Definition of an incident[edit]

An "incident" of chemical food contamination may be defined as an episodic occurrence of adverse health effects in humans (or animals that might be consumed by humans) following high exposure to particular chemicals, or instances where episodically high concentrations of chemical hazards were detected in the food chain and traced back to a particular event.[1]

Socio-economic impacts[edit]

Information on the impacts of these incidents is fragmentary and unsystematic, ranging from thousands of dollars to meet the cost of monitoring analysis, to many millions of dollars due to court prosecutions, bankruptcy, product disposal, compensation for revenue loss, damage to brand or reputation, or loss of life.[1]

List of notable incidents[edit]

Ancient times[edit]

  • Roman Empire – There is speculation that the Romans, in particular the elite, suffered severe chronic lead poisoning due to the ubiquity of lead in e.g. lined pots in which acidic foodstuffs were boiled, over and above any mere exposure to lead in water pipes. They also used sugar of lead to sweeten their wines.[2]

Middle Ages[edit]

19th century[edit]

1900 to 1949[edit]

1950 to 2000[edit]

2001 to 2010[edit]

  • 2001 – Spanish olive pomace oil was contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Contaminated product was recalled.[37]
  • 2002 – In Northern Ireland, nitrofurans were detected in 5 (of 45) samples of chicken imported from Thailand and Brazil. The product was withdrawn and destroyed.[38]
  • 2002 – In the UK, nitrofurans were detected in 16 (of 77) samples of prawns and shrimps imported from SE Asia. Affected batches were withdrawn and destroyed.[39]
  • 2002 – In the UK and Canada, the banned antibiotic, chloramphenicol, was found in honey from China[40]
  • 2002 – In China, 42 people, mostly schoolchildren, died after eating poisoned food from a breakfast shop in the city of Nanjing. More than 300 were also seriously injured. The authority later tried and executed a man who was said to have deliberately poisoned his rival shop's food.[41]
  • 2003 – Dioxins were found in animal feed that was contaminated with bakery waste that had been dried by firing with waste wood.[1]
  • 2003 – The banned veterinary antibiotic nitrofurans were found in chicken from Portugal. Poultry from 43 farms was destroyed. Nitrofurans are banned from food because of concerns including a possible increased risk of cancer in humans through long-term consumption.[42]
  • 2004 – Organic free-range chicken was found to contain traces of the banned veterinary drug, nitrofuran. Up to 23 tonnes of affected chicken, originating from a farm in Northern Ireland, was distributed to supermarkets across the UK resulting in a voluntary product recall and consumer warnings.[43]
  • 2004 – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) detected chloramphenicol in honey labelled as product of Canada. Chloramphenicol is banned for use in food-producing animals, including honey bees, in Canada as well as in a number of other countries. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) informed Health Canada that five lots of honey labelled as "Product of Canada" were distributed in British Columbia and were found to contain residues of the banned drug chloramphenicol. A voluntary food recall occurred.[44]
  • 2004 – New Zealand soy milk manufactured with added kelp contained toxic levels of iodine. Consumption of this product was linked to five cases of thyrotoxicosis. The manufacturer ceased production and re-formulated the product line.[45][46]
  • 2004 – New Zealand cornflour and cornflour-containing products were contaminated with lead, thought to have occurred as a result of bulk shipping of corn (maize) contaminated by previous cargo in the same storage. Affected product was distributed in New Zealand, Fiji and Australia. Four products were recalled.[47]
  • 2004 – Aflatoxin-contaminated maize in Kenya resulted in 317 cases of hepatic failure and 125 deaths.[48]
  • 2004 – EHEC O104:H4 in South Korea, researchers pointed at contaminated hamburgers as a possible cause.[49][50]
  • 2005 – Worcester sauce in the UK was found to contain the banned food colouring, Sudan I dye, that was traced to imported adulterated chilli powder. 576 food products were recalled.[51][52]
  • 2005 – Farmed salmon in British Columbia, Canada was found to contain the banned fungicide malachite green. 54 tonnes of fish was recalled. The incident resulted in an estimated $2.4-13M (USD) lost revenue.[53]
  • 2006 – Pork, in China, containing clenbuterol when pigs were illegally fed the banned chemical to enhance fat burning and muscle growth, affected over 300 persons.[54]
  • 2007 – Pet food recalls occurred in North America, Europe, and South Africa as a result of Chinese protein export contamination using melamine as an adulterant.
  • 2008 – Baby milk scandal, in China. 300,000 babies affected, 51,900 hospitalisations and 6 infant deaths. Lost revenue compensation~$30M, bankruptcy, trade restrictions imposed by 68 countries, 60 or more arrests, executions, prison sentences, and loss of consumer confidence.[55][56] Melamine from the contaminated protein worked into the food chain a year later[57]
  • 2008 – Wheat flour contaminated with naturally-occurring pyrrolizidine alkaloids is thought to be the cause of 38 cases of hepatic veno-occlusive disease including 4 deaths in Afghanistan[7]
  • 2008 – Irish pork crisis of 2008: Irish pork and pork products exported to 23 countries was traced and much was recalled when animal feed was contaminated with dioxins in the feed drying process. The cost of cattle and pig culling exceeded €4M, compensation for lost revenue was estimated to be €200M.[58][59]
  • 2008 – In Italy, it was discovered that additives included substances like sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid had been used to dilute wines.[60]
  • 2008 – In Italy, dioxin was found in buffalo milk from farms in Caserta. The probable source was groundwater contamination from illegal waste dumping in the Triangle of death (Italy).[61]
  • 2008 United States salmonellosis outbreak – an outbreak of salmonellosis across multiple U.S. states linked to jalapeño peppers imported from Mexico.
  • 2009 – Pork, in China, containing the banned chemical clenbuterol when pigs were illegally fed it to enhance fat burning and muscle growth. 70 persons were hospitalised in Guangzhou with stomach pains and diarrhoea after eating contaminated pig organs[54][62]
  • 2009 – Hola Pops from Mexico contaminated with lead[63]
  • 2009 – Bonsoy-brand Soymilk in Australia, enriched with 'Kombu' seaweed resulted in high levels of iodine, and 48 cases of thyroid problems. The product was voluntarily recalled and a settlement of 25 million AUS$ later reached with the victims.[64][65]
  • 2010 – Snakes in China were contaminated with clenbuterol when fed frogs treated with clenbuterol. 13 people were hospitalised after eating contaminated snake. There were 113 prosecutions in 2011 relating to clenbuterol, with sentences ranging from three years imprisonment to death.[54]

2011 to 2020[edit]

  • 2011 United States listeriosis outbreak – a widespread outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes food poisoning across 28 US states that resulted from contaminated cantaloupes linked to Jensen Farms of Holly, Colorado. As of the final report on 27 August 2012, there were 33 deaths and 147 total confirmed cases since the beginning of the first recorded case on 31 July 2011.[66]
  • 2011 – contaminated illegal alcohol in West Bengal resulted in an estimated 126 deaths. The alcohol may have contained ammonium nitrate and/or methanol.[67]
  • 2011 – German E. coli O104:H4 outbreak was caused by EHEC O104:H4 contaminated fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt in 2009 and 2010, from which sprouts were grown in Germany.
  • 2011 – Vinegar from China contaminated with ethylene glycol when stored in tanks that previously contained antifreeze, led to 11 deaths and an estimated 120 cases of illness.[68]
  • 2011 – Meat, eggs and egg products in Germany contaminated from animal feed containing fat contaminated with dioxins. 4,700 German farms affected. 8,000 hens and hundreds of pigs were culled. Imports from Germany to China were banned.[69][70]
  • 2012 – More than a quarter of a million chicken eggs were recalled in Germany after in-house testing discovered "excessive levels" of the poisonous chemical, dioxin.[71]
  • 2012, June – A Brazilian housewife discovered an apparently used condom at the bottom of a can of Knorr tomato paste. Unilever was fined £3,100 ($4,800) by the Supreme Federal Court. She was awarded £1,110 ($1,700) for moral damages, as she and her family had consumed a meal prepared with the paste.[72]
  • 2012, July – Around 1 million pots of herbs had to be destroyed in North Rhine-Westphalia after treatment with an apparently organic plant growth strengthener was found to contain DDAC (didecyl-dimethylammonium chloride) which resulted in contamination levels above the EU MRL of 0.01 mg/kg. This has resulted in significant additional costs to member states across the EU who put in place a monitoring programme[permanent dead link] until February 2013 for DDAC and other quaternary ammonium compounds across a wide range of commodity groups.[citation needed]
  • 2012, August to September – Multiple American Licorice Company black licorice products recalled due to high lead levels in the products. Consuming a bag of product could give children lead levels as high as 13.2 micrograms/daily limit, double the amount regulators consider actionable.[73]
  • 2012, October – frozen Chinese strawberries contaminated with norovirus infected over 11,000 children in Germany.[74]
  • 2013, January – It was disclosed that horse meat contaminated beef burgers had been on sale in Britain and Ireland. Two companies, ABP Food Group and Liffey Meats, had supplied various supermarkets with contaminated own brand burgers from their meat factories in the UK and Ireland.
  • 2013, February – In Germany 200 farms are suspected of selling eggs as "organic" but not adhering to the conditions required for the label.[75]
  • 2013, March – A batch of 1800 almond cakes with butter cream and butterscotch from the Swedish supplier, Almondy, on its way to the IKEA store in Shanghai were found by Chinese authorities to have a too high amount of coliform bacteria and were subsequently destroyed.[76]
  • 2013, March – A vegetable seller in western Germany, Rhine Main, realized that the lettuce he had been selling throughout the day contained rat poison. The poison appears as small blue kernels.[77]
  • 2013 aflatoxin contamination – Contamination with aflatoxins results in a milk recall in Europe and a dog food recall in the United States in February and March.
  • 2013, May – A Chinese crime ring was found to have passed off rat, mink, and small mammal meat as mutton for more than 1 million USD in Shanghai and Jiangsu province markets.[78]
  • 2013, May – Halal Lamb Burgers contained samples of Pork DNA, affected 19 schools in Leicester, UK.[79]
  • 2013, July – Bihar school meal poisoning incident, India.[80]
  • 2013, October – 2013 Taiwan food scandal
  • 2014, September – 2014 Taiwan food scandal
  • 2015, January – Mozambique funeral beer poisoning, Beer served at a funeral in Mozambique was contaminated with bongkrekic acid, resulting in 75 deaths and more than 230 people falling ill.[81]
  • 2015, April – Contaminated milk tea resulted in the deaths of two individuals and affected another[82] in Sampaloc, Manila,[83][84] the cause of which was determined to have been oxalic acid being deliberately laced at more than the lethal oral dose.[85][86]
  • 2015, April – In the US, Blue Bell Creameries recalled eight million US gallons (thirty million L) of ice cream after an outbreak of listeria at one of their production facilities led to ten hospitalizations and three deaths.[87]
  • 2015, June – In India and Nepal, lead contamination in Nestlé's Maggi brand instant noodles made headlines in India, with some seven times the allowed limit; several Indian states banned the product, as did Nepal.[88][89]
  • 2015, July – 2015 Caraga candy poisonings in the Philippines
  • 2015, November–December – United States E. coli outbreak[90]
  • 2016, February–March – Mars Chocolates contamination incident, in which plastic found in candy bars lead to a recall affecting 55 countries.[91]
  • 2016, April–May, CRF Frozen Foods recalled over 400 frozen food products due to listeria outbreak that sickened 8 people.[92]
  • 2016, April–May – 2016 Punjab sweet poisoning, confectioneries contaminated with the toxic insecticide chlorfenapyr caused 33 deaths.
  • 2017 fipronil eggs contamination in Europe and Asia
  • 2017-18 South African listeriosis outbreak, linked to contaminated polony. Remains the largest listeriosis outbreak on record.
  • 2018 Australian rockmelon listeriosis outbreak, listeriosis traced to rockmelon (also known as cantaloupe) grown in New South Wales, Australia.
  • 2018 Australian strawberry contamination, where strawberries were found to contain needles.
  • 2019 – Dioxin contamination of eggs in Tropodo, Indonesia. The dioxin is produced by the burning of plastic as fuel for the local tofu industry.[93]
  • 2019 – An Internet trend in the United States saw individuals filming themselves opening containers of ice cream from shelves, licking the ice cream, and returning the container to the shelf. One man from Texas was convicted of misdemeanor criminal mischief after filming himself licking Blue Bell ice cream in a Walmart.[94][95]
  • 2019 – A study identified widespread lead chromate adulteration of turmeric, intended to enhance its yellow color, as the primary cause of lead poisoning in Bangladesh, which had been practiced since the 1980s.[96] By 2021, the practice had been effectively eradicated following a massive crackdown by the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority.[97]
  • 2020 sesame seeds contamination Sesame seeds sold in Europe, originating in India, contaminated by ethylene oxide.
  • 2020 – 10 people died[98] and 16 were left disabled[99] after an ethylene glycol contamination in brazilian craft beers produced in Minas Gerais. Made by Backer, the "Belorizontina" branded beers first showed issues in January of 2019, but this information wasn't presented to health officials. When inspected, the production was shown to be irregular, with a leaking tank and spots of contamination.[100] Their beers were recalled,[101] with 79.481,34 liters of the drink being apprehended in Backer's production line and also markets. Of those, 56.659 bottles were considered too risky for human consumption. Although Anvisa prohibited Backer from operating in 2020 and they were sued[102] almost R$12,000,000[103] (around U$2.503.390 in 2022), they are allowed to produce again since April 2022, while their victims are still suffering from the poisoning[104] and fighting for justice. [105] In the 21st of July 2023, Backer settled with the Ministério Público and will have to pay R$500,000 ($104.308 in 2023) to each victim (at the moment, only 9 of them are officially recognized) plus $150000 (U$31.292,38) to each of their first-degree relatives, the same amount of money from the victim's last paycheck and their medical treatment, plus for any job or opportunity lost because of the incident. Some relatives from the people that died say they weren't included in the restitution, because their family members' death happened before the investigation started. To G1, the widow of a 63 years old man affirmed he was hospitalized and died in February:; "I have 3 reports, including one from the Civil Police, the coroner, I have his necropsy reports, I have a report from the medical board, saying 'We can confirm that Mr. José Osvaldo de Faria was intoxicated by the poison diethylene glycol produced by the Backer Beer'".[106]
  • 2020 – In Jixi city, China nine people died after eating homemade fermented corn noodles contaminated with bongkrekic acid.[107]

2021 to present[edit]


In 2013, Professor Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety and Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast, was asked by the UK's Secretaries of State for Defra and Health to undertake a review of the weaknesses within UK food supply networks and to suggest measures which might be taken to address these issues. After an interim report was published in December 2013, his final report was published in July 2014, recommending that the UK adopt a National Food Crime Prevention Framework.

His 8 recommendations, or "eight pillars of food integrity", provided for:

  1. maintaining customer confidence in food as a chief priority
  2. a "zero tolerance" approach to food fraud or food crime
  3. a focus on intelligence gathering
  4. the role of laboratory services
  5. the value of audit and assurance regimes
  6. targeted government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks
  7. leadership, and
  8. crisis management in response to any serious food safety or food crime incident.[114]

See also[edit]


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