November 11, 2019

History of Fast Food E. coli Outbreaks

Food poisoning outbreaks that are linked to fast food have occurred in the past. Most of these outbreaks have been linked to raw vegetables, primarily raw sprouts, although the very first serious E. coli O157:H7 outbreak caused by a fast food product was the Jack in the Box outbreak of 1992 through 1993. The history of fast food E. coli outbreaks is long.

History of Fast Food E. coli Outbreaks

The type of E. coli bacteria that causes serious human illness, known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, is found in the intestines of ruminant animals. There are many strains of E. coli, but only some cause human illness.

The most common E. coli serotype that causes outbreaks is E. coli O157:H7. There are other serotypes, but they are much more rare. Those pathogens, sometimes called the “Big Six” STEC, included O103, O26, O121, O145, and others.

These are the E. coli outbreaks linked to fast food in the past few years:

  1. More than 500 people were sickened, and four people died in the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. The illnesses were linked to undercooked ground beef, or hamburgers. Traceback identified five slaughter plants in the U.S. and one in Canada as at the likely sources of carcasses that were used to make the contaminated meat.
  2. A 2019 E. coli O103 outbreak in Kentucky has been linked to fast food consumption, but no specific restaurant chains has been identified yet. At least 20 people are ill in that state, and more patients in other states may be identified.
  3. Two Shiga toxin-producing E. coli outbreaks that sickened at least 60 people in 14 states were linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants. The pathogen was E. coli O26. Investigators never found the food that was contaminated in this outbreak.
  4. An E. coli O121 outbreak in 2014 that were linked to Evergreen raw clover sprouts served at Jimmy John’s, Pita Pita, and Daanen’s Deli sickened 19 people in 6 states.
  5. Cucumbers imported from Mexico were the source of an E. coli outbreak in 2013 that sickened nine people who ate at Jimmy John’s restaurants.
  6. In 2013, an E. coli outbreak sickened 8 people ho ate at three Denver area Jimmy John’s locations. Officials did not identify the contaminated food.
  7. Jimmy John’s was again the source of an E. coli O26 outbreak that sickened 29 people in 11 states. Raw clove sprouts were identified as the contaminated food in that outbreak.
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