If you’ve ever come down with a case of food poisoning (and who hasn’t?), then you already know that it’s no joke. Getting food poisoning can be an absolutely miserable experience – and it’s actually killed some of history’s most prominent people.
Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is the result of eating food that’s been contaminated with bacteria, a virus, parasites, toxin, or another pathogen. According to the CDC, each year it’s estimated that 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. (Here are 25 foods that can make you sick or kill you.)
Of the many pathogens that can cause foodborne illness, four are particularly fatal, and are responsible for the majority of food poisoning deaths in modern times: Campylobacter, the most common bacterial cause of diarrheal illness in the United States; noroviruses, which are America’s leading cause of foodborne illness; listeria, a bacteria which sickens about 1,600 Americans annually; and salmonella, a bacteria that kills about 420 Americans every year.
While it’s impossible to completely erase your risk of getting food poisoning, there are thankfully some easy steps you can take to minimize your risk. The CDC’s Four Steps to Food Safety are: Clean (wash your hands, surfaces that come into contact with food, and fruits and vegetables), Separate (avoid cross-contamination), Cook (make sure to cook meat to the right temperature), and Chill (refrigerate food promptly to keep it out of the Danger Zone” between 40°F and 140°F).
To compile a list of prominent people who have died of food poisoning, or are believed to have, 24/7 Tempo consulted the category listing of deaths from food poisoning on Wikipedia, as well as lists on several pop culture websites, then verified details through the New York Times and Britannica. (Whether from food poisoning or other causes, these are some very famous people who died at the dinner table.)
Thankfully, due to advances in refrigeration, medicine, and food safety overall, we know a lot more about foodborne illnesses than in the past. Sadly, for these mostly historical figures, that knowledge didn’t come soon enough or may have been disregarded.
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