The documentary “Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food” makes its Netflix debut on Wednesday, Aug. 2. 

Based on the bestselling book “Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat,” the film delivers a shocking exposé that will resonate with consumers, the food industry, regulators, politicians and all those concerned about food safety.

The documentary is based on Jeff Benedict’s 2013 book.

“Poisoned” serves as a call to action for officials with the power to mitigate the dangers posed by foodborne illnesses, which claim thousands of lives annually in the U.S. It also lays bare an alarming indictment of the food industry and regulatory system, showcasing how decades of apathy and misconduct have left American consumers vulnerable to such deadly outbreaks.

The documentary is directed by Stephanie Soechtig, known for her works such as “Under the Gun”, “Fed Up”, and Netflix’s “Knock Down the House.” Jeff Benedict, author of “Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat”, is executive producer alongside Rebecca Evans and Ross Girard, with Ross M. Dinerstein and Kristin Lazure as producers. Rod Hassler serves as cinematographer on the project, and Justin Melland is the composer.

The documentary heavily features Food Safety News‘ Publisher and food safety lawyer Bill Marler, as well as people personally impacted by foodborne illness, such as Darin Detwiler, who lost his 16-month-old son Riley to E.coli during the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak.

The Food Safety News team watched the documentary and gave some early reviews:

(Warning: spoilers ahead)

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Dan Flynn, Editor in Chief

Dan Flynn

When author Jeff Benedict first wrote “Poisoned,” he followed in the  tradition of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”  The socialist Sinclair wanted to draw support for Chicago’s slaughterhouse workers, but as he said, “I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident hit its stomach.”

The film version of Poisoned is laser-focused on telling the food safety story of the past 25 years or so. Using both archival film and some focused contemporary reporting, “Poisoned” catches up the viewer with how food safety has evolved since the infamous hamburger outbreak of 25 years ago and what’s happened since.

The documentary makes mincemeat of the belief that food safety in the United  States is the safest in the world. In “Poisoned,” we see one gap after another in U.S. food safety. The film shows how Salmonella in chicken remains unsolved in the U.S. while ‘pathogen-free’ chicken is found for sale in Europe.

The film also documents how concentrated animal operations spread dangerous E. Coli O157:H7 on the nearby Romaine fields.

The viewer will leave “Poisoned” knowing enough to take defensive food safety measures and not rely on ‘the system.’  That means “Poisoned” is likely one of the most important documentaries you will ever see.

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Coral Beach, Managing Editor

Coral Beach

If you believe that the United States has the safest food supply in the world, you need to watch “Poisoned.” This movie takes the viewer on a journey with victims’ families, government regulators and industry leaders telling the story of food poisoning in America. 

If there is one takeaway from “Poisoned,” it is that the American government can have success stories, but that it still has work to do. After the deadly outbreak of E. Coli infections traced to Jack in the Box hamburgers in 1993 the top food safety official at the USDA declared it illegal to sell hamburger contaminated with E. Coli O157. 

This documentary shows how the current USDA leadership needs to take the same action regarding Salmonella in poultry. And, the Food and Drug Administration needs to be able to enforce common sense regulations for foods such as romaine lettuce grown in close proximity to animal feedlots.

Viewers will be moved to tears and outraged at the status of food safety in our country, and will hopefully be motivated to contact their representatives and senators and tell them — not ask, but tell them — to act now for safer food.

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Joe Whitworth, Staff Writer

Joe Whitworth

Food safety is something most people take for granted and the topic only gets attention when it goes wrong. There are many passionate people working every day to ensure safe food but the figures on foodborne disease remain high and don’t seem to be improving.  

Watching “Poisoned” reminds us all that the statistics showing 48 million sick each year in the United States are people like you and me and while illness might be mild for many, 3,000 die annually. Often it is the most vulnerable – either young children or older adults – that suffer the most. 

The food system is extremely complex with lots of moving parts in supply chains that are global but while food safety is everyone’s responsibility, there needs to be accountability to drive the seriousness of the message home for industry.  

Whether it is a one-off mistake, complacency or blatantly ignoring regulations, those in the food sector must learn when something they produce, handle, distribute or sell causes an outbreak, and regulators need to assess the gaps in legislation to avoid repeated incidents.  

“Poisoned” does not try to cover every issue from all angles, which would overload the viewer. It will give people the initial vibe that something is not right with the system and the hunger to find out more for themselves. 

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Jonan Pilet, Staff Writer

Jonan Pilet

“Poisoned” exposes the dark side of the food industry, revealing crime, corruption, negligence and waste. This wake-up call should leave viewers rightfully angered by a system that jeopardizes their health. While the film feels hopeless at times, it highlights progress and urges consumers to pressure Congress to make needed changes. The documentary excels in explaining the American food system and the current issues being faced, backed by a captivating score, sharp editing and top-notch production. It vividly showcases the severity of the U.S. food safety crisis and humanizes victims through their poignant interviews.

As someone who follows and reports on the impact of foodborne illness, I hope “Poisoned” sparks crucial attention and action. The alarm has been sounded on the country’s largest streaming platform. How will American consumers respond?

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Cookson Beecher, Contributing Writer

Cookson Beecher

I remember it so well. It was almost dark, raining hard, cold and dismal. Early winter in 1993. As I waited to cross the street, I saw a newspaper headline about yet another child stricken with something called E. coli. The picture of the child was heartbreaking. Many children were in the hospital and one had already died.

It was scary news . . . as though an invisible killer was amongst us. But what was it? And what, if anything, could be done about it?

Fortunately, state health inspectors managed to trace the problem to the “Monster Burgers,” sold at a special discounted price at some of the Jack in the Box fast-food restaurants.  Ironically, the slogan in the promotions was “So good it’s scary!”

“Poisoned” is a movie described as a ‘legal thriller.’  Although this played out in the courtroom, it goes past the legal chambers and into our own lives. Because it did so much to clean up the way the nation’s ground beef is produced, we’ve all come out as the winners.

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Watch the trailer and once you’ve seen the film on Aug. 2, we’d love to hear from you. Submit your thoughts on the film in the comments section below this story.

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