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The 10 Biggest Foodborne Illness Outbreaks of 2013

Chicken and fresh produce lead the pack

Editor’s note: 2013 saw dozens of well-publicized foodborne illness outbreaks. While many of them were found to have sickened a handful of individuals, a few stood out as especially wide in scope. Food Safety News has compiled a list of 10 of the biggest U.S. outbreaks in 2013. Please note that the list excludes Norovirus outbreaks and only includes pathogenic outbreaks associated with grocery products or restaurants. Also note that the actual number of outbreak cases is typically much higher than the quoted number due to many victims typically falling ill but never being reported.

10. E. coli O157:H7 from Glass Onion chicken salads, 33 sick. Trader Joe’s customers in four states fell ill after eating one of two pre-made salad products from Glass Onion Catering: the Field Fresh Chopped Salad with Grilled Chicken or the Mexicali Salad with Chili Lime Chicken. At least seven people were hospitalized, with two developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a kidney disease associated with severe E. coli infections. [CDC outbreak information]

9. Salmonella from Hacienda Don Villo in Channahon, IL, 35 sick. Health investigators traced 35 Salmonella illnesses back to this Mexican restaurant in Grundy County, but they could never pinpoint the exact food source. At least one person was hospitalized, and one employee was among those who tested positive for Salmonella. [News report]

8. E. coli O121 from frozen Farm Rich foods, 35 sick. Prompting a large recall of frozen mini pizza slices, cheeseburgers and quesadillas, this outbreak sickened predominantly minors across 19 states. Of those confirmed ill, 82 percent were 21 years of age or younger. Nine were hospitalized. The company recalled all products created at one Georgia plant between June 2011 and March 2013. [CDC outbreak information]

7. Salmonella from imported cucumbers, 84 sick. Investigators eventually traced this outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul back to cucumbers imported from Mexico. Of those confirmed ill, 17 were hospitalized. The importers were barred from bringing more products into the U.S. until they could prove the products were not contaminated. [CDC outbreak information]

6. E. coli O157:H7 from Federico’s Mexican Restaurant in Litchfield Park, AZ, 94 sick. Investigators have implicated lettuce served at the restaurant as the likely source of the E. coli, but no other restaurants in the area had cases connected to them. The lettuce may have been cross-contaminated from another food at the restaurant, or the restaurant may have received a highly contaminated batch. Two victims developed HUS as a result of their infections. [News report]

5. Salmonella from Foster Farms chicken, 134 sick. The first of two Foster Farms outbreaks in 2013 hit Washington and Oregon the hardest, but then spread out across 13 states. At least 33 people were hospitalized, with infections likely resulting from cross-contamination or undercooking of highly contaminated raw chicken. Foster Farms has not issued a recall for either of the two major outbreaks caused by chicken it produced this year. [CDC outbreak information]

4. Hepatitis A from Townsend Farms frozen organic berries, 162 sick. At least 71 people were hospitalized after eating an organic berry mix purchased at Costco stores in the Southwest. The exact source of the outbreak was eventually traced back to pomegranate seeds from Turkey which were contained within the mix. [CDC outbreak information]

3. Salmonella from dining at Firefly restaurant in Las Vegas, NV, 294 sick. Patrons of this popular Las Vegas tapas restaurant fell ill after dining within a five-day stretch in April. The owners ultimately closed up shop and re-opened the restaurant in a new location. [News report]

2. Salmonella from Foster Farms chicken, 416 sick. While this outbreak appears to be ongoing, hundreds of individuals have fallen ill over the course of the year in connection with raw chicken processed at Foster Farms facilities in California. At least 162 people have been hospitalized after likely undercooking the contaminated raw chicken or handling it in a way that lead to accidental cross-contamination. Foster Farms has refused to issue a recall, and cases continue to appear as recently as early December. [CDC outbreak information]

1. Cyclospora from salads and cilantro, 631 sick. The outbreak of this foodborne parasite also takes the title for most confusing, as it appeared to be two separate Cyclospora outbreaks working in tandem. One set of patients – predominantly from Iowa and Nebraska – clearly appeared to be connected to Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants (both owned by Darden Restaurants), while, just weeks later, patients in Texas began cropping up with no apparent connection to those restaurants. The Darden illnesses were tentatively traced to lettuce supplier Taylor Farms de Mexico, but no contamination could be found at the farms. Meanwhile, many of the Texas illnesses seemed to implicate fresh cilantro grown in Puebla, Mexico. [CDC outbreak information]

© Food Safety News
  • Oginikwe

    It would be great if Food Safety News would do an article on what happens to food that is recalled and/or withdrawn. According to “Pet Food Politics” by Marion Nestle, it is fed to farm animals but it all can’t be fed to farm animals. IIf it is fed to farm animals, don’t they get sick from whatever contaminant is in there? Some reporters have claimed that it is sold to school lunch programs, too. This would be a very interesting article.

  • Dr. Rob Stuart

    The following quote is from the Food Safety Modernization Act: “About 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are
    hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according
    to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” According to this article, 1,918 people got sick, 302 were hospitalized, and no people died from foodborne pathogens. This is a far cry from what the CDC reported would occur. This just shows how wrong the CDC estimates are in predicting the numbers. What is even worse is that the FDA is going around and not saying that the CDC numbers are estimates and not actual cases. That is so misleading. I regret that these incidents occurred, however it really points to how safe our food supply is in this country.

    • doug

      I don’t get what you are saying? This article is about 10 foodborne illness outbreaks. Not every case in the US. You’re a doctor?

    • guest

      What the he’ll are you talking about!!!

    • Emily73

      Wrong. The 1,918 who got sick were part of large outbreaks that were verified ill with outbreak strains of bacteria tied to specific foods. The millions of Americans who get sick every year are not part of outbreaks, but individuals who become sick because of poor food handling practices.

    • Food Lover

      The disparity between the numbers in this article and CDC’s estimates don’t necessarily mean that the CDC is missing the boat. There are several reasons for the differences that seen. First off, only a small fraction of foodborne illnesses get reported each year (I have read that only 1 in 9 get reported). Of the ones that do get reported, only about 5% of these illness are a part of outbreaks (more than two unrelated people with the same symptoms and source), and only 1% of the reported are the large outbreaks we hear about in the news. The ones that are listed above are only 10 outbreaks that fall into this 1%– so 2,000 represents a small fraction of the 1% of the 1 in 9.
      That all being said, the impact of foodborne illness is difficult to estimate . It’s something that the WHO and the CDC have been working to improve for decades. To estimate the burden it takes a lot of numbers and a lot of people working together to get the best info possible. Part of that effort is getting consumers to recognize that what they have is a foodborne illness and get them to report it rather than chalking their discomfort to the “stomach flu”. The more numbers, the more accurate estimates can be.

  • scrambo

    hence my argument that bulk production and corporate farming put forth the biggest risk in foodborne illness outbreaks. if smaller farms were encourage economically and not legislated out of existence by big agri-lobbying, grow local and buy local is safer and healthier for everybody…we need a fundamental change in this respect….