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.

Outside of Botulism (which has been well known since the early 1900s and killed often at the time), many other foodbourne illnesses such as Salmonella were not monitored closely or kept careful track of until at least the late 70s, with overall monitoring only fully taking off after the 1992–1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak.

List by agent

Year Event Agent Food Company Infected Deaths Notes
2017–2018. 2017–18 South African listeriosis outbreak Listeria Processed meat Enterprise Foods 1,060[1] 216[1] A widespread Listeria monocytogenes outbreak from contaminated Deli meats from Enterprise Foods a subsidiary of Tiger Brands. It is the world's worst listeria outbreak.
2011 2011 Germany E. coli O104:H4 outbreak E. coli O104:H4 fenugreek sprouts[2] >3,950[3] 53[4] Deadliest bacterial foodborne outbreak in Europe. Deadliest E. coli outbreak.
1985 1985 California listeriosis outbreak in cheese Listeria queso fresco Jalisco Cheese >86[5] 47 or 52[6] Deadliest bacterial foodborne outbreak in US.[6][7]
2011 2011 United States listeriosis outbreak in cantaloupes Listeria cantaloupe[6] Jensen Farms 146 30[8] Second deadliest bacterial foodborne outbreak in US. Second deadliest Listeria outbreak.
2008 2008 Canada listeriosis outbreak Listeria cold cuts Maple Leaf Foods[9] >50 22[10] Deadliest foodborne outbreak in Canada.
1996 1996 Wishaw (Scotland) E. coli outbreak E. coli O157 meat John Barr 496 21 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.[11] Deadliest Outbreak of the 0157 strain[12]
1998 1998 United States listeriosis outbreak Listeria cold cuts and hot dogs Bil Mar Foods >100 18 or 21[6][13]
2008-2009 2008–2009 Chile listeriosis outbreak Listeria Cecina, sausages, cheese and other dairy products Doñihue Limitada 164[14] 16[14]
2014 2013–2014 Danish listeriosis outbreak Listeria Spiced lamb roll, pork, sausages, bacon, liver pâté etc.[15] Jørn A. Rullepølser > 37 15[16] Deadliest[citation needed] foodborne outbreak in Denmark.
2024 2023-2024 North American salmonellosis outbreak in cantelope Salmonella Cantelope Malchita 597 15 Deadliest Salmonella outbreak in world history
1985 1985 United States salmonellosis outbreak in milk Salmonella milk Hillfarm Dairy 5,295[17] 9[17] Largest foodborne salmonella outbreak in milk.
2008 2008 United States salmonellosis outbreak in peanuts Salmonella peanuts Peanut Corporation of America >200 9 Largest foodborne salmonella outbreak in peanut butter. One of the largest food recalls in United States history.[18]
2002 2002 United States listeriosis outbreak in poultry Listeria poultry Pilgrim's Pride >50[19] 8[19]
2015–present[20][timeframe?] European listeriosis outbreak (2015–present) Listeria monocytogenes[20] Frozen corn suspected[20] Hungarian supplier → Hungarian processing company → Polish storage service → Polish packer[20] 32[20] 6[20] As of 8 March 2018, the ongoing outbreak has affected five European Union countries:
  • Austria: 2 confirmed cases (1 fatal)
  • Denmark: 4 confirmed cases (1 fatal)
  • Finland: 14 confirmed cases (2 fatal)
  • Sweden: 6 confirmed cases (2 fatal)
  • United Kingdom: 6 confirmed cases (no fatalities)

[20][needs update]

1994 Salmonella in ice cream Salmonella ice cream Schwan's Sales Enterprises 224,000 0 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.[21]
1992 - 1993 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak E. coli O157:H7 undercooked hamburgers Jack in the Box >700[19] 4[19] First deadly foodborne E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.
2003 2003 United States hepatitis A outbreak Hepatitis A green onions 555[22] 3[22] Largest foodborne hepatitis outbreak.
2006 2006 North American E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in spinach E. coli O157:H7 spinach Dole Foods[19] >205[19] 3 [23]
1963 1963 botulism case from canned tuna Botulism canned tuna A&P 2 [24]
1922 1922 Loch Maree botulism outbreak[25] Botulism Duck paste Lazenby's 8 8 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.
1971 1971 botulism case from Bon Vivant soup Botulism vichyssoise soup Bon Vivant Company 2[26] 1[26]
1996 1996 Odwalla E. coli outbreak E. coli O157:H7 unpasteurized apple juice Odwalla 66[27] 1[28] Unpasteurized juice sold for the health market. Rotten apples used when safety officer was overruled.[28]
2005 2005 South Wales E. coli O157 outbreak E. coli O157 meat local butcher 157[29] 1[29] Largest E. coli outbreak in Wales.[29] Second largest E. coli outbreak in UK.[29]
2017 2017 Valley Oak Nacho Cheese Botulism outbreak Botulism nacho cheese gas station 10 1 A poorly maintained nacho cheese machine lead to the contamination of the cheese and the sicking of 10 people with botulism, one of whom later died.[30]
1995-present vCJD/HSBE in British Beef New Variant Cruetzfelt Jakob Disease AKA Human Bovine Spongiform Encephalopthy beef nationwide beef producers 178 178

By chemical contamination

Year Event Food Contaminant Location Affected Deaths Notes
1971 1971 Iraq poison grain disaster wheat, barley methylmercury Iraq >650 650 Seeds treated with methylmercury as a fungicide for planting were used as food
1981 1981 Spain rapeseed oil toxicity rapeseed oil possibly aniline Spain ~25,000 600 Industrial oil sold as food oil.[31]
1955 Morinaga milk arsenic poisoning [ja][32][33] Powdered milk arsenic Japan 13,389 >600 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.
1900 1900 English beer poisoning beer arsenic England >6,000 >70 Arsenic was introduced into beer via contaminated sugar. Outbreak made worse by mass-misdiagnosis of the victims' illnesses.
1947 1947 Oregon State Hospital poisoning Scrambled eggs sodium fluoride United States 467 47 Instead of powdered milk, sodium fluoride, a poison to kill cockroaches, had been accidentally used in the cooking process
1858 1858 Bradford sweets poisoning candy arsenic trioxide England ~200 20 Arsenic was accidentally sold as "daft". Daft was a standard adulterant to bulk up the candy
2005 Mabini food poisoning incident[34] fritters carbamate Philippines ~100 28 Pesticide ingredient was believed to have been inadvertently mixed with cassava flour used in making the snacks which were then sold to schoolchildren
2008 2008 Chinese milk scandal milk melamine and urea China >300,000 6 Milk diluted with water then melamine added to fool the test for protein content

See also


  1. ^ a b "Situation Report" (PDF). Department of Health, Republic of South Africa. 26 July 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 May 2019. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  2. ^ William Neuman (June 10, 2011). "The Poster Plant of Health Food Can Pack Disease Risks". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2013-05-01. Retrieved 2011-10-08. German authorities said on Friday that they had conclusively identified sprouts as the cause of the E. coli infections that have swept Europe since early May, ...
  3. ^ European Food Safety Authority (July 11, 2012). "E.coli: Rapid response in a crisis". Archived from the original on November 20, 2018. Retrieved 2012-10-02. Across the EU more than 3,100 cases of bloody diarrhoea and more than 850 of haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure, were reported...
  4. ^ European Food Safety Authority (July 11, 2012). "E.coli: Rapid response in a crisis". Archived from the original on November 20, 2018. Retrieved 2012-10-02. there were 53 confirmed deaths.
  5. ^ "Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Listeriosis Outbreak Associated with Mexican-Style Cheese -- California". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 21, 1985. Archived from the original on October 18, 2011. 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.
  6. ^ a b c d William Neuman (September 27, 2011). "Deaths From Cantaloupe Listeria Rise". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. 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. ...
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado (Final update)". 8 December 2011. Archived from the original on 7 August 2012. 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.
  9. ^ "Canada Expands Recall of Cold Cuts and Raises Death Toll". New York Times. August 25, 2008. Archived from the original on 2013-05-01. 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.
  10. ^ "Listeria monocytogenes outbreak". Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 2009-03-12. Archived from the original on 2009-02-07. Retrieved 2009-03-20. The Public Health Agency of Canada has updated its case numbers from last year's national listeriosis outbreak. ...
  11. ^ Otter, Chris (2020). Diet for a large planet. USA: University of Chicago Press. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-226-69710-9.
  12. ^ "The butcher who lied". The Herald. August 20, 1998. Archived from the original on 2021-10-28. 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.
  13. ^ "Listeria Fear Forces Recall of Hot Dogs". New York Times. March 26, 2000. Archived from the original on 2013-05-01. 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.
  14. ^ a b Ministry of Health (August 26, 2009). "Informe Listeriosis" (PDF) (in Spanish). Retrieved August 25, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ "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
  16. ^ "Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to meat from Jørn A. Rullepølser A/S, Denmark". 8 September 2014. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2014. A total of 15 deaths with strains of Listeria monocytogenes were reported by The Danish Ministry of Health. The outbreak has been linked to spiced lamb roll, pork, bacon, sausages, liver pâté and other meat products.
  17. ^ a b "Salmonella Outbreak is Traced". United Press International in the New York Times. April 17, 1985. Archived from the original on 2012-12-12. 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.
  18. ^ "Peanut Company Sent Products Before Test Results". New York Times. February 11, 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-04-24. Retrieved 2011-11-09. It has also led to one of the largest food recalls in the nation's history ...
  19. ^ a b c d e f Jennifer O'Shea (May 20, 2007). "Timeline: Deaths and Illnesses Caused by Food Contamination". U.S. News & World Report. Archived from the original on 2011-10-18. Retrieved 2011-10-10. 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.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g "Multi-country outbreak of Listeria monocy togenes serogroup IVb, multi-locus sequence type 6, infections probably linked to frozen corn" (PDF). European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. 24 March 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 March 2018. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
  21. ^ 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. ISSN 0028-4793. PMID 8609944.
  22. ^ a b "Hepatitis A Outbreak Associated with Green Onions at a Restaurant – Monaca, Pennsylvania, 2003". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 28, 2003. Archived from the original on 2011-06-15. 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. ...
  23. ^ Libby Sander (October 13, 2006). "Source of Deadly E. Coli Is Found". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2013-05-01. 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. ...
  24. ^ "Deaths Spur Tuna Hunt In Detroit Area". Toledo Blade. March 20, 1963. Archived from the original on 2022-12-22. Retrieved 2011-10-10. Dr. Robert Solomon, who treated the second victim, said he and a pathologist attributed her death to "botulism" and that "everything points to type the ...
  25. ^ Horowitz, B Zane (2011). "The ripe olive scare and Hotel Loch Maree tragedy". Clinical Toxicology. 49 (4): 345–347. doi:10.3109/15563650.2011.571694. ISSN 1556-3650. PMID 21563914. S2CID 207562569.
  26. ^ a b "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.
  27. ^ "Odwalla Agrees to Pay $1.5M Fine". The Fresno Bee. July 24, 1998. Archived from the original on 2012-01-28. 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.
  28. ^ a b Christopher Drew and Pam Belluck (January 4, 1988). "Deadly Bacteria a New Threat To Fruit and Produce in U.S." New York Times. Archived from the original on 2015-12-25. Retrieved 2008-08-11. Interviews with former Odwalla managers and company documents show that in the weeks before the outbreak, Odwalla began relaxing its standards on accepting blemished fruit and reining in the authority of its own safety officials, culminating in tense, dramatic moments on the morning of Oct. 7, 1996, the day the contaminated juice was pressed. ...
  29. ^ a b c d "E.coli butcher jailed for a year. A butcher has been jailed for a year for food safety offences which led to a fatal E.coli outbreak in 2005". BBC. 7 September 2007. Archived from the original on 2010-11-28. Retrieved 2011-10-07. Mr Walters said one vacuum-packing machine was "wrongly used" for both raw and cooked meats. "It was not uncommon for juices from raw meat to get into the vacpacker. "There was blood on the trays and workers were having to wipe it off while they were packing cooked meat. "One employee said he was told by Tudor not to use the vacpacker for cooked meat whenever food inspectors were visiting."
  30. ^ "Officials: Misuse of cheese, dispenser caused botulism outbreak". Food Safety News. September 13, 2017. Archived from the original on 2023-12-08. Retrieved 2024-06-18. Ten people were lab-confirmed victims of the outbreak. All required hospitalization. One person, a 37-year-old father of two, died. Nine of the victims had to spend time in intensive care units. Seven of the ICU patients had to be placed on ventilators because the botulism poisoning paralyzed muscles that are used for breathing. ...
  31. ^ "A Long Trial in Spain on Fatal Tainted Food". New York Times. August 2, 1987. Archived from the original on 2019-12-13. Retrieved 2011-10-10. According to official figures, still disputed, more than 600 people have died and some 25,000 have been affected. ...
  32. ^ Dakeishi, Miwako; Murata, Katsuyuki; Grandjean, Philippe (2006). "Long-term consequences of arsenic poisoning during infancy due to contaminated milk powder". Environmental Health. 5 (1): 31. Bibcode:2006EnvHe...5...31D. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-5-31. ISSN 1476-069X. PMC 1635412. PMID 17076881.
  33. ^ "Chapter - 3 The arsenic milk poisoning incident". Archived from the original on 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-06-21.
  34. ^ "DOH: Bohol poisoning due to pesticide, not cyanide". Archived from the original on April 7, 2023. Retrieved April 7, 2023.