June 15, 2024

History of E. coli Outbreaks Linked to Ground Beef

E. coli outbreaks have a long history in the United States. This pathogen is typically associated with beef; in fact, a 2015 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the USDA found that beef is the source of most E. coli outbreaks. Of the 952 outbreaks during the 14 year period that was studied, 170 were caused by E. coli; of those, 97 were caused by beef.

History of E. coli Outbreaks Linked to Ground Beef

Most of these outbreaks have been caused by E. coli O157:H7. But others have been linked to O26 or O103. Sometimes, the specific serotype is not named by public health officials. The history of E. coli outbreaks linked to ground beef and ground beef products in the United States include:

  1. E. coli O26 outbreak linked to Cargill Meat Solutions ground beef in 2018 sickened at least 18 people in 4 states in 2018. The beef was sold at Publix grocery stores in Florida.
  2. An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to ground beef produced by Adams Farm Slaughterhouse sickened eleven people in five states in 2016.
  3. Another outbreak in 2016 was linked to ground beef and beef products produced by PT Farm in New Hampshire. In that outbreak, 14 people in 4 states were sickened.
  4. Ranch Foods ground beef was associated to an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Colorado in 2016.
  5. An outbreak in New Hampshire in 2016 was associated with ground beef.
  6. Eleven people who ate at Worthy Burger restaurant in Vermont were sickened with E. coli infections in 2015. Health officials did not release much information about this outbreak.
  7. Three people were sickened, and one of them, an 8-year-old boy, died, after eating hamburgers made of grass-fed ground beef allegedly purchased from a South Weymouth, Massachusetts Whole Foods.
  8. An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to ground beef produced by Wolverine Packing Company sickened at least 12 people in 4 states in 2014.
  9. An E. coli outbreak in Michigan in 2014 was “likely” caused by ground beef. Five people were sickened in that outbreak.
  10. In 2013, an E. coli outbreak was linked to ground beef served at a Brazos county restaurant in Texas. At least five people were sickened in that outbreak.
  11. In 2010, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that was linked to National Steak and Poultry sickened 21 people in 8 states. Many patients in this outbreak had consumed beef in restaurants.
  12. In 2009, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to beef from Fairbanks Farms sickened sickened 26 people in 8 states. Investigators found the outbreak strain in opened packages of ground beef from a patient’s home.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria live in the intestines of ruminant animals, such as cows, goats, and sheep. When the animal is slaughtered, pathogens in the intestines can contaminate the meat. Then, when the meat is ground to make ground beef, the pathogens are mixed throughout. That’s why eating hamburgers that are cooked less than well done can make people sick; the bacteria survive the cooking process.


  1. Mary Elizabeth Ambery says

    Thank you for posting this explanation. I have always attributed the problem of employees not washing their hands after using the bathroom as the source of all E. coli bacteria poisoning outbreaks. Your article changed my mind. I will share it with other professionals in my education field.

    • Linda Larsen says

      You’re welcome. E. coli infections can be spread person-to-person, although large outbreaks are typically linked to contaminated food.

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