Blech! Five worst foodborne illness outbreaks in recent U.S history

In July, up to two dozen people contracted salmonella after dining at The Fort in Morrison. The likely culprit? Rattlesnake cakes -- specifically, the presence of uncooked eggs in the dish, which has since been removed from the menu.

Seems that Montezuma doesn't discriminate between exotic rattlesnakes and cheap tacos. But if you think the Fort's salmonella outbreak was bad, keep reading -- because we've got five more (far more) extreme cases of food poisoning:

1. Milk. It Does a Body (Not So) Good. Think of it as if every single person in a small town got sick. Thousands of Midwesterners contracted salmonella -- by some estimates, up to hundreds of thousands -- after drinking contaminated milk in the mid-1980s, with 14,828 cases (and two deaths) reported across six different Midwestern states. The affected milk was traced back to Jewel grocery stores. It's enough to make you (almost) consider rice milk a viable option. 2. We Don't All Have a Friend in Cheeses. Anywhere from 29 to more than 80 deaths -- including a number of stillborn births and infant deaths -- and more than a hundred illnesses are attributed to listeria caused by consumption of an unpasteurized Mexican cheese product in 1985. The horrific outbreak, centered in and around Los Angeles and specifically within the area's Latino community, caused the cheese manufacturer, Jalisco Mexican Products Inc., to go under. Going vegan never looked so (sort of) good. 3. Note: Leave Tartare to the Experts. Medium-rare may be the beef temperature of choice in most circles, but if you get more burgers from a drive-through than a gastropub, you might want to think again. Case in point: E. coli detected in undercooked beef sold in 1993 at creepy mascot king Jack in the Box was responsible for hundreds of illnesses -- and the deaths of four children -- throughout the West in 1993. The disaster plummeted the company to the brink of bankruptcy, but it rebranded itself with clever ad campaigning and continues to sell crappy fast food throughout a broad swath of the country. 4. The Great Strawberry Scare of 1997. Remember when your parents terrified you with tales of razor blades in Halloween candy? It's like that, only real. More than a million pounds of frozen strawberries purchased by the United States Department of Agriculture for the federal school lunch program were recalled after 153 cases of Hepatitis A were reported in 1997, 151 of them schoolchildren or staff. Thousands are believed to have been exposed. The strawberries had been distributed to school districts in six different different states. 5. The Country Club Curse Three bean salad's enough to worry about when it's sitting outside all day, vulnerable to sneezes, flies and stray grubby hands. In 1977, a Joan of Arc brand canned variation of the popular "salad" came under suspicion after two people died and many more were sickened when they contracted botulism, a particularly heinous type of food poisoning, after consuming it at a New Mexico country club. Might want to stick to your foie gras and truffle oil, clubbers.
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Jessica Chapman
Contact: Jessica Chapman