This is a list of foodborne illness outbreaks by death toll, caused by infectious disease, heavy metals, chemical contamination, or from natural toxins, such as those found in poisonous mushrooms.
Before modern microbiology, foodbourne illness was not understood, and, from the mid 1800s to early-mid 1900s, was perceived as Ptomaine Poisoning, caused by a fundamental flaw in understanding how it worked. While the medical establishment ditched Ptomaine theory by the 30s, it remained the public conscience until the late 60s and early 70s. Proper noting of such events only properly started after the Bon Vivant Outbreak of 1971, and was still limited in scope, thereby it was highly likely many large scale outbreaks from the 60s or earlier occurred, but were poorly documented and may have gone unnoticed, as even after the Bon Vivant case, prior to the 92-93 Jack in the Box Outbreak, many outbreaks were not widely reported. As such, the majority of entries on this list post-date that outbreak.
At the time the world's deadliest outbreak of E. coli poisoning. Butchers John M. Barr & Son provided cooked meat products to several events including a birthday party and a pensioners' luncheon club. The source of the contamination was traced to a boiler used for cooking joints and stew, and a vacuum packing machine used for cooked and raw meats. Deadliest Outbreak of the 0157 strain
An estimated that 224,000 people across the United States suffered from Salmonella enteritidis gastroenteritis after eating Schwan's ice cream when raw, unpasteurized eggs were hauled in a tanker truck that later carried pasteurized ice cream to the Schwan's plant, and the ice cream premix wasn't pasteurized after delivery to the plant.
Six guests and two staff members at the Loch Maree Hotel in Scotland were fatally poisoned by sandwiches made with Botulinus-contaminated duck paste. This was the first incident in the UK in which botulism was conclusively identified as the cause and remains the only large incident of microbial food contamination in the UK with 100% reported fatalities.
By mistake, an industrial grade Monosodium phosphate was added to milk produced by Morinaga Milk Industry, which contained an impurity of 5–8% arsenic. The milk powder was used for feeding infants, and many babies were poisoned. By 1981, there were still >6,000 people affected as adults with severe mental retardation and other health effects; and by 2006, >600 adults remained affected.
^"Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Listeriosis Outbreak Associated with Mexican-Style Cheese -- California". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 21, 1985. Retrieved 2011-10-08. Between January 1, and June 14, 1985, 86 cases of Listeria monocytogenes infection were identified in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, California. Fifty-eight of the cases were among mother-infant pairs. Twenty-nine deaths have occurred: eight neonatal deaths, 13 stillbirths, and eight non-neonatal deaths. An increased occurrence of listeriosis was first noted at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center; all cases were in pregnant Hispanics, and all appeared to be community-acquired. A systematic review of laboratory records at hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange County identified additional cases throughout the area.
^ abcdWilliam Neuman (September 27, 2011). "Deaths From Cantaloupe Listeria Rise". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-29. At least 13 people in eight states have died after eating cantaloupe contaminated with listeria, in the deadliest outbreak of food-borne illness in the United States in more than a decade, public health officials said on Tuesday. ... The outbreak appeared to be the third worst in the United States attributed to any form of food-borne illness, in terms of the number of deaths, since the C.D.C. began regularly tracking such outbreaks in the early 1970s. The deadliest outbreak in the United States since then occurred in 1985, when a wave of listeria illness, linked to Mexican-style fresh cheese, swept through California. A federal database says 52 deaths were attributed to the outbreak, but news reports at the time put the number as high as 84. The second-deadliest outbreak was in 1998 and 1999, when there were at least 14 deaths and four miscarriages or stillbirths in a listeria outbreak linked to hot dogs and delicatessen meats. Some sources put the death toll in that outbreak as high as 21. ...
^Segal, Marian (1988). "Invisible villains; tiny microbes are biggest food hazard". FDA Consumer. Archived from the original on 2009-08-02. Summer 1985: In Southern California, the largest number of food poisoning deaths recorded in recent U.S. history is traced to Mexican-style soft chesse. Of the 142 reported cases, there were 47 deaths, including 19 stillbirths and 10 infant deaths. The killer -- Listeria monocytogenes.
^"Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado (Final update)". 8 December 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2012. A total of 146 persons infected with any of the four outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes were reported to CDC from 28 states. The number of infected persons identified in each state was as follows: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), California (4), Colorado (40), Idaho (2), Illinois (4), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (11), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (7), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), Nevada (1), New Mexico (15), New York (2), North Dakota (2), Oklahoma (12), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (18), Utah (1), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (4). (...) Thirty deaths were reported: Colorado (8), Indiana (1), Kansas (3), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (3), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), New York (2), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2), and Wyoming (1). Among persons who died, ages ranged from 48 to 96 years, with a median age of 82.5 years. In addition, one woman pregnant at the time of illness had a miscarriage.
^"Canada Expands Recall of Cold Cuts and Raises Death Toll". New York Times. August 25, 2008. Retrieved 2011-10-08. Over the weekend, Maple Leaf expanded its recall, which began with two types of cold cuts, to include 220 products from the factory, which is one of 24 operated by the company. Separately on Monday, Lucerne Foods, which is based in Calgary, announced a recall of prepared sandwiches it made using Maple Leaf meats for supermarkets and convenience stores in Western Canada.
^"The butcher who lied". The Hearld. August 20, 1998. Retrieved 2021-01-05. ... Wishaw butcher John Barr was in disgrace last night after a sheriff ruled that his deliberate deception of environmental health officers may have caused every death from E-coli in the world's worst-ever outbreak.
^"Listeria Fear Forces Recall of Hot Dogs". New York Times. March 26, 2000. Retrieved 2011-09-30. ... The move comes as the company tries to polish a wholesome image tarnished by the nationwide recall in December 1998 of about 15 million pounds of hot dogs and luncheon meat after listeria was spotted. The meat was linked 21 deaths and more than 100 illnesses in 22 states.
^"Listeria Impacted Products"(PDF). Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. August 2014. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2014-08-25. Retrieved 2014-08-26. List of listeria impacted products and distributors
^ ab"Salmonella Outbreak is Traced". United Press International in the New York Times. April 17, 1985. Retrieved 2011-09-29. About 6,644 cases of samonella poisoning have been reported and 5,295 have been confirmed in five states, most of them in Illinois, according to Jeremy Margolis, the acting Illinois public health director. At least nine deaths have been linked to the outbreak. The other states affected by the outbreak are Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.
^Hennessy, Thomas W.; Hedberg, Craig W.; Slutsker, Laurence; White, Karen E.; Besser-Wiek, John M.; Moen, Michael E.; Feldman, John; Coleman, William W.; Edmonson, Larry M. (1996-05-16). "A National Outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis Infections from Ice Cream". New England Journal of Medicine. 334 (20): 1281–1286. doi:10.1056/nejm199605163342001. ISSN0028-4793. PMID8609944.
^ ab"Hepatitis A Outbreak Associated with Green Onions at a Restaurant – Monaca, Pennsylvania, 2003". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 28, 2003. Retrieved 2011-10-08. The Pennsylvania Department of Health and CDC are investigating an outbreak of hepatitis A outbreak among patrons of a restaurant (Restaurant A) in Monaca, Pennsylvania. As of November 20, approximately 555 persons with hepatitis A have been identified, including at least 13 Restaurant A food service workers and 75 residents of six other states who dined at Restaurant A. Three persons have died. Preliminary sequence analysis of a 340 nucleotide region of viral RNA obtained from three patrons who had hepatitis A indicated that all three virus sequences were identical. Preliminary analysis of a case-control study implicated green onions as the source of the outbreak. ...
^Libby Sander (October 13, 2006). "Source of Deadly E. Coli Is Found". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-10. Cattle manure collected from a California ranch under investigation by federal and state authorities contains the same strain of E. coli that killed three people and sickened nearly 200 in a recent outbreak linked to tainted spinach, federal and state food safety officials said Thursday. ...
^ ab"An Examination of FDA's Recall Authority". Harvard Law School. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2007-09-25. The incident did not take a toll only on the company, however. Bon Vivant did not have adequate records and controls of production lots and distribution in order to trace the products quickly. The company also did not have the finances or manpower necessary to run a successful recall program. As a result, the FDA had to seize all the Bon Vivant soup throughout the country, more than a million cans in all. FDA said the seizure occupied 125 man years of FDA time, enough for 2,000 ordinary factory inspections for preventive purposes. After some squabbling in the courts, where the owner of the company sought to recover the seized cans for resale under the company's new name, "Moore & Co.," the soup was eventually incinerated, at the cost of nearly $150,000 to the federal government. As for Moore & Co., it appears the resurrection of the company was short-lived.
^"Odwalla Agrees to Pay $1.5M Fine". The Fresno Bee. July 24, 1998. Retrieved 2008-08-08. Representatives of juice maker Odwalla Inc. agreed in a Fresno courtroom Thursday to pay a record $1.5 million criminal penalty for the 1996 E. coli outbreak that killed a Colorado girl and sickened at least 66 other people. The Half Moon Bay company admitted to 16 misdemeanor charges as part of a plea agreement stemming from the outbreak traced to contaminated apple juice made at the firm's plant in Dinuba.