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1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak

The 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak occurred when 732 people were infected with the Escherichia coli O157:H7 bacterium originating from undercooked beef patties in hamburgers.[1][2][3] The outbreak involved 73 Jack in the Box restaurants in California, Idaho, Washington and Nevada and has been described as "far and away the most infamous food poison outbreak in contemporary history."[4][5][6] The majority of the victims were children aged under 10-years old.[7][8] Four children died (including one child who became ill due to contact with another child sick with e.coli) [9] and 178 other victims were left with permanent injury including kidney and brain damage.[10][11][12][13]

The wide media coverage and scale of the outbreak were responsible for "bringing the exotic-sounding bacterium out of the lab and into the public consciousness" but was not the first E. coli O157:H7 outbreak resulting from undercooked patties. The bacterium had previously been identified in an outbreak of food poisoning in 1982 (traced to undercooked burgers sold by McDonald's restaurants in Oregon and Michigan) and prior to the Jack in the Box incident there had been 22 documented outbreaks in the United States resulting in 35 deaths.[14]


Health inspectors traced the contamination to the restaurants' "Monster Burger" sandwich which had been on a special promotion (using the slogan So good it's scary!) and sold at a discounted price.[14][15] The ensuing high demand "overwhelmed" the restaurants and the product was not cooked for long enough or at a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria.[16] At a 1993 press conference the president of Foodmaker (the parent company of Jack in the Box) blamed Vons Companies Inc. (supplier of their hamburger meat) for the E. coli epidemic. However, the Jack in the Box fast-food chain knew about but disregarded Washington state laws which required burgers to be cooked to Script error: No such module "convert"., the temperature necessary to completely kill E. coli. Instead, it adhered to the federal standard of Script error: No such module "convert".. Had Jack in the Box followed the state cooking standard, the E. coli outbreak would have been prevented, according to court documents and experts from the Washington State Health Department.[17] Subsequent investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified five slaughterhouses in the United States and one in Canada as "the likely sources of [...] the contaminated lots of meat."[18]


Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL], addressing a congressional hearing on food safety in 2006, described the outbreak as "a pivotal moment in the history of the beef industry."[19] James Reagan, Vice President of Research and Knowledge Management at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), said that the outbreak was "significant to the industry" and "the initiative that moved us further down the road [of food safety] and still drives us today."[20]

As a direct result of the outbreak:

  • E. coli O157:H7 was upgraded to become a reportable disease at all state health departments[21]
  • the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased the recommended internal temperature for cooked hamburgers from Script error: No such module "convert". to Script error: No such module "convert".[4][21]
  • the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) introduced safe food-handling labels for packaged raw meat and poultry retailed in supermarkets, alongside an educational campaign alerting consumers to the risks associated with undercooked hamburgers[4][21] The labels and the educational campaign came with criticism and objection from the industry.[9]
  • the FSIS introduced testing for E. coli O157:H7 in ground meat[4]
  • the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reclassified E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant in ground beef[22]
  • the USDA introduced the Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (PR/HACCP) program[4][22][23][24]
  • the NCBA created a task force to fund research into the reduction of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle and slaughterhouses[4]
  • Jack in the Box completely overhauled and restructured their corporate operations around food safety priorities, setting new standards across the entire fast food industry.[20]
  • Parents of victims formed STOP Foodborne Illness (formerly Safe Tables Our Priority, or S.T.O.P.,) a national non-profit organization dedicated “to prevent Americans from becoming ill and dying from foodborne illness” by advocating for sound public policy, building public awareness, and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness.[25]
  • Parents of the victims played key roles in spreading awareness and advocating for change - speaking directly to President Bill Clinton, meeting with Vice President Al Gore, testifying before the Clinton Healthcare Task Force, working with the Secretary of Agriculture, and discussing food safety issues with lawmakers in Washington, D.C.[26][27]
  • Some parents, including Darin Detwiler (who lost his son, Riley, to E.coli and Hemolytic-uremic syndrome during the outbreak) later served as regulatory policy advisors to the USDA for meat and poultry inspection.[28]

See also

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  1. Schlosser 2001, p. 198.
  2. Nestle 2010, p. 73.
  3. "Other big E.Coli outbreaks". South Wales Echo (Cardiff). 11 March 2008. p. 9. ProQuest document ID 342321106. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Golan et al. 2004, p. 10.
  5. Hanlon, Michael (21 May 2001). "The making of a modern plague". Daily Mail (London). p. 30. ProQuest document ID 321207886. 
  6. Denn, Rebekah (13 May 2011). "Poisoned author Jeff Benedict examines the current state of food safety in the US". The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA). Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  7. Hunter 2009.
  8. Schlosser & Wilson 2006, p. 180.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Detwiler, Darin. "Do Meat and Poultry Handling Labels Really Convey Safety?". Food Quality and Safety. Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  10. Roberts 2008, p. 182.
  11. Rogers, Lois (16 April 1995). "Killer in beef spreads alarm". The Times (London). p. 1. ProQuest document ID 318273338. 
  12. Sylvester, Rachel (11 June 1995). "Children risk death from burger bug". The Sunday Telegraph (London). p. 9. ProQuest document ID 309266408. 
  13. "Foodmaker". Financial Times (London). 25 February 1998. p. 1. ProQuest document ID 248542525. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Drexler 2009, p. 81.
  15. Manning 2010, p. 10.
  16. Green, Emily (6 June 2001). "The Bug That Ate The Burger". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  17. Porterfield, Elaine; Berliant Mcclatchy, Adam (June 17, 1995). "Jack In The Box Ignored Food Safety Regulations, Court Documents Say". The Spokesman-Review Co. The Spokesman-Review. Retrieved 5 June 2014. 
  18. Davis 1993, p. 258-263.
  19. Food Safety: Current Challenges and New Ideas to Safeguard Consumers: Hearing Before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, United States Senate, 109th Cong. 76 (15 November 2006) (statement of Senator Dick Durbin).
  20. 20.0 20.1 Andrews, James (11 February 2013). "Jack in the Box and the Decline of E. coli". Food Safety News (Seattle, WA). Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Benedict 2011, p. xi.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Roberts 2008, p. 183.
  23. Golan et al. 2004, p. 14.
  24. Pathogen Reduction; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems, 61 Fed. Reg. 38806 (1996).
  25. News Desk (April 21, 2011). "Name Change for Food Safety Advocacy Group STOP". Food Safety News. Retrieved February 21, 2015. 
  26. Balter, Joni (January 9, 1994). "Darin Detwiler: He Lost Son To E. Coli, Now Is Hellbent On Making It To Olympia". The Seattle Times. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  27. King, Warren (February 25, 1993). "E. Coli Victim Leaves Legacy Of Awareness". The Seattle Times Company. The Seattle Times. Retrieved 5 June 2014. 
  28. Canaday, Autumn. "USDA Press Release No. 0186.04: Veneman Names New Member to National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection". USDA. USDA Office of Communications. Retrieved 5 June 2014. 

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