Special Report

31 Food Recalls That Poisoned the Most People

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a food safety alert on Tuesday, Nov. 20. Consumers were advised to throw out all produce containing romaine lettuce due to a sudden outbreak of E. coli. So far 32 people in the United States have fallen ill from the foodborne bacteria, 13 of whom were hospitalized.

Chicken, beef, and deli ham – so far in 2018 these products contaminated with different strains of salmonella and listeria have sickened more than 220 people across the country. Millions of pounds of meat have been recalled.

There were 456 food recalls in the U.S. in 2017, down from 764 the previous year. Most recalls are issued as a precaution in order to prevent an epidemic. However, sometimes contamination in food can go unnoticed, leading to hospitalizations and even death. Disturbingly, some companies have knowingly distributed contaminated products, which has led to some of the nation’s most tragic foodborne illness outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in six Americans become ill from foodborne diseases each year. About 128,000 people end up hospitalized and 3,000 die.

24/7 Wall St. identified the worst recalls of all time by reviewing the events that caused the most deaths, hospitalizations, and cases of illness.

The most common foodborne illnesses include salmonella, listeria, and Escherichia coli, or E. coli.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain for up to seven days. Most people infected with the bacteria recover without treatment. Listeria, or Listeriosis, is an intense infection particularly harmful to pregnant women, newborns, and those who are 65 and over. E. coli can cause myriad issues, as well including severe diarrhea. The most severe strain may lead to kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS. All of these foodborne illnesses can be fatal if not treated properly.

Some foodborne illness outbreaks do not lead to a recall. For example, a recent outbreak of E. coli was found in romaine lettuce growing in the Yuma region in Arizona. Because this crop was not sourced from one particular company, but rather a stretch of farmland, a public warning was issued.

Foodborne illnesses are not always the most common reason for a recall. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., a spokesperson from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said most recalls are done voluntarily and issued as a preventive measure. In other cases, a recall is administered because the product label isn’t transparent about the ingredients it comprises or could comprise.

“A majority of recalls are undeclared allergens in food,” said the spokesperson. The FDA requires food manufacturers to label their products honestly, and this includes listing major food allergens. If not, the manufacturer must recall the product until the label is changed.

24/7 Wall St. identified the worst food recalls of all time by reviewing a variety of internet sources, including media outlets that reported the recall and its aftermath. These events were ranked by number of deaths, hospitalizations, and people affected by the contaminated product. All of these figures primarily came from the CDC and the FDA.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the contaminated cantaloupes in the Jensen Farm 2011 Listeria outbreak as originating from Rocky Ford, Colorado. In fact, the farmer falsely advertised the fruit as coming from Rock Ford.   

Click here to see 31 food recalls that poisoned the most people. 

Source: sergeyryzhov / iStock

31. Hudson Foods
> No. of cases: 16
> No. of deaths: 0

When the Department of Agriculture told Hudson Foods Inc. to recall 25 million pounds of beef in 1997 because of E. coli contamination, it was the largest such food recall up to that time. Hudson Foods, based in Rogers, Arkansas, also temporarily closed its Columbus, Nebraska, meat-processing facility. Hudson Foods lost its contract with Burger King, and the company was sold later that year.


Source: undefined undefined / iStock

30. Freshway Foods
> No. of cases: 26
> No. of deaths: 0

Freshway Foods voluntarily recalled packages of romaine lettuce in 2010 after the FDA notified the Sidney, Ohio-based company that an unopened sample in a laboratory in New York tested positive for E. coli. The recalled product was sold in mostly eastern states and sickened 26 people.

Source: Topps Burgers

29. Topps Meat Company
> No. of cases: 30
> No. of deaths: 0

Tainted meat from E.coli contamination forced Topps Meat Company to recall 21.7 million pounds of ground meat in 2007. The outbreak sickened 30 people. The incident doomed Topps, at the time the nation’s largest seller of frozen hamburger patties, as the company closed after the outbreak.

Source: Mike Mozart / Flickr

28. SoyNut Butter Company
> No. of cases: 32
> No. of deaths: 0

In 2017, SoyNut Butter Company, which was known for its nut-free granola products and peanut butter substitutes, was the source of a 12-state E. coli outbreak. Thirty-two people fell ill, 26 of which were children. The company filed for bankruptcy shortly after the outbreak was linked to its soy nut paste product.


Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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