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The 10 Worst U.S. Foodborne Illness Outbreaks of 2014

This year saw dozens of well-publicized foodborne illness outbreaks caused by everything from bean sprouts to cilantro to caramel apples. Food Safety News has compiled a list of the 10 most harmful U.S. outbreaks of 2014, in terms of both the number of people who died and the number sickened.

This list includes only foodborne illness outbreaks in which investigators determined both the pathogen involved and the food source, which eliminates a number of outbreaks from inclusion.

10. Chia seeds and powder contaminated with Salmonella, 83 sickened. One of the more eyebrow-raising outbreaks of the year was tied to sprouted chia seeds and powder sold in the U.S. and Canada. At least 52 people from Canada and 31 from the U.S. were found to be sickened. [News report]

9. Bean sprouts from Wonton Foods contaminated with Salmonella, 111 sickened. New England residents were hit hard by this recent Salmonella outbreak, in which at least 29 people were hospitalized. [CDC outbreak information]

8. Chicken dish at Food Safety Summit contaminated with Clostridium perfringens, 216 sickened. This outbreak was the perfect recipe for a snarky news headline: Hundreds of people sickened with a foodborne illness at none 0ther than one of the nation’s biggest food-safety conferences. The likely source was a chicken marsala dish served by the conference’s hired catering company. [News report]

7. Foster Farms chicken Salmonella outbreak, 634 total sickened, including 218 in 2014. Coming in at number two on our list of the worst outbreaks from 2013, the nationwide Salmonella outbreak from Foster Farms chicken continued into 2014, sickening another 218 people this year before finally being declared over in July. The outbreak spanned more than 17 months, making it one of the longest-running outbreaks in recent memory. [News report]

6. Wedding dish contaminated with Clostridium perfringens, more than 300 sickened. Contaminated gravy allegedly ruined a special day for more than 300 of the 750 attendees at a wedding in Missouri. Shortly after the wedding, guests began reporting cases of diarrhea and vomiting. [News report]

5. Mexican-grown cilantro contaminated with Cyclospora, 304 sickened. Following a massive outbreak last year involving Cyclospora-contaminated salads and cilantro grown in Mexico, Texans once again faced the brunt of a Cyclospora outbreak from Mexican cilantro this year. The bulk of the illnesses once again hit at the height of summer. [CDC outbreak information]

4. Raw milk contaminated with Campylobacter in Utah, 1 dead and 80 sickened. This outbreak was the subject of a state legislative inquiry in Utah after it contributed to the death of one immunocompromised man. While Utah state law requires that raw milk carry a warning about the potential to carry harmful pathogens, the milk in this outbreak did not. [News report]

3. Bean sprouts from Wholesome Soy Products contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, 2 dead and 5 sickened. 2014 was a bad year for bean sprouts, which saw numerous outbreaks and even more recalls. The most deadly of the sprout outbreaks was linked to Wholesome Soy Products, where FDA investigators found several problems related to unsanitary conditions during inspections of their facilities earlier this year. [CDC outbreak information]

2. Dual Listeria outbreaks linked to Mexican-style cheese, 2 dead and 13 sickened in total. Mexican-style cheeses were linked to two deadly outbreaks this year. In one, a patient died and eight were sickened by cheese produced by Maryland-based Roos Foods. The other outbreak, linked to cheese produced by Florida-based Oasis Brands, killed one patient and sickened five. [News report for Roos Foods outbreak] [News report for Oasis Brands outbreak]

1. Caramel apples contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, 5 dead and 29 sickened. The year’s most deadly outbreak was also its most recent to be announced and likely its most unexpected. While illnesses first appeared in mid-October, public health officials didn’t trace the outbreak back to store-bought, prepackaged caramel apples until mid-December. A complete list of brand names has yet to emerge, but so far we know that Carnival brand and Kitchen Cravings brand caramel apples are among those affected. [News report]

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