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The 10 Biggest U.S. Foodborne Illness Outbreaks of 2015

Cucumbers2015_406x250This year 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 the 10 most harmful U.S. outbreaks of 2015, in terms of both the number of people who died and the number sickened.*

This list excludes norovirus outbreaks and only includes pathogenic outbreaks associated with grocery products or restaurants. Please also note that the actual number of outbreak cases is typically much higher than the quoted number due to many victims never reporting their illnesses.

10. E. coli O26 from Chipotle, specific source unidentified, 52 sickened. The fast casual chain was hit with six reported outbreaks, but it was the multistate E. coli outbreak which began in October that captured national attention. [CDC outbreak information] [Timeline]

9. Salmonella Paratyphi B variant L(+) tartrate(+) and Salmonella Weltevreden Infections Linked to Frozen Raw Tuna, 65 sickened. This outbreak – most prevalent on the West Coast – occurred between March and July and was believed to be caused by contaminated frozen tuna imported from Indonesia and used to make sushi. [CDC outbreak information]

8. Salmonella from pork carnitas sold at Supermercado Los Corrales, 70 sickened. The illnesses, reported to Kenosha County, WI health officials in May, were linked to pork carnitas sold at Supermercado Los Corrales during Mother’s Day weekend. The meat and food preparation area of the store was temporarily closed during the investigation and reopened June 4. [News report]

7. Staphylococcus aureus from the Sunnyside Child Care Center, 86 sickened. After dozens of children were hospitalized in Alabama, state health officials found Staphylococcus aureus toxin in several food products served at both locations of the Sunnyside Child Care Center in Montgomery which matched with patient samples. The kitchen was closed for investigation and reopened after staff complied with all necessary training and operational requirements. [News report]

6. SalmonellaI 4,[5],12:i:- and Salmonella Infantis from Pork, 192 sickened. There were 188 Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- illnesses and 4 Salmonella Infantis illnesses in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and Alaska linked to pork produced by Kapowsin Meats. Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- isolates collected from patients were found to be multidrug resistant. Thirty people were hospitalized and no deaths were reported. [CDC outbreak information]

5. Shigella from Mariscos San Juan, 194 sickened. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department reported on Nov. 9 that 194 people were sickened with Shigella. Nearly all of the cases reported that they ate at Mariscos San Juan restaurant on Oct. 16 or 17. [News Report]

4. Salmonella Typhimurium from Tarheel Q, 1 death and 280 sickened. Those who fell ill after eating at the Lexington, NC barbeque restaurant came from 16 North Carolina counties and five states. Laboratory testing indicated that the BBQ sample and a sample from a patient who became ill during the beginning of the outbreak were both positive for Salmonella. [News report]

3. Salmonella from the Boise Co-op, 290 sickened. Approximately 290 people were sickened with Salmonella linked to food purchased from the Boise Co-op deli after June 1, 2015. Preliminary test results showed Salmonella growth in raw turkey, tomatoes and onion. [News report]

2. Cyclospora from Mexcan-grown cilantro, 546 sickened.For the third year in a row, Cyclospora-contaminated cilantro grown in Mexico caused a massive outbreak. This year, there were 31 states affected but Texans bore the most with 179 illnesses. The bulk of the illnesses hit at the end of May and throughout June.[CDC outbreak information]

1. Salmonella Poona from Cucumbers, 4 deaths and 838 sickened. This enormous outbreak hospitalized 165 people and four deaths were reported in Arizona, California, Oklahoma and Texas. The outbreak hit California the hardest where 232 people were sickened, but 38 states were affected in total. Investigators identified cucumbers imported from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce as a likely source of the infections and there were two recalls of potentially contaminated cucumbers. The number of reported illnesses has declined substantially since the peak of illnesses in August and September, but it hasn’t returned to the number of reported illnesses expected each month (about five). [CDC outbreak information]

*We’d also like to mention the Listeria outbreak connected with Blue Bell Creameries. There were three deaths and 10 illnesses connected to the ice cream and reported as early as 2010. On April 20, 2015, Blue Bell recalled all of its products and began distributing its ice cream again at the end of August. Although the outbreak was fairly small and only one connected illness was reported in 2015, we thought it important to note on this list because of the unusual food product and the national coverage it sparked this year.

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