35 of the Biggest Food Recalls in US History

Detailed Findings

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in six Americans become ill from foodborne diseases each year. About 128,000 people end up hospitalized and 3,000 die.

The most common foodborne illnesses are those caused by certain bacteria and viruses, including salmonella, listeria, and Escherichia coli, or E. coli, norovirus, and Clostridium perfringens, or C. perfringens.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain for up to seven days. Most people infected with the bacteria recover without treatment. Listeria, or listeriosis, is an intense infection particularly harmful to pregnant women, newborns, and those who are 65 and over. E. coli can cause a myriad of issues. The most severe strain may lead to kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS. All of these foodborne illnesses can be fatal if not treated properly.

Some foodborne illness outbreaks do not lead to a recall. For example, an outbreak of E. coli was found in romaine lettuce growing in the Yuma region in Arizona. Because this crop was not sourced from one particular company but rather a stretch of farmland, a public warning was issued.

Foodborne illnesses are not always the most common reason for a recall. Some companies may voluntarily recall a product as a preventive measure. In other cases, a recall is ordered because the product label isn’t transparent about the ingredients.


24/7 Tempo identified 35 of the worst food recalls of all time by reviewing information from the FDA, the CDC, and a variety of internet sources, including media outlets that reported on food recalls and their aftermath. The number of affected people, deaths, and hospitalizations primarily came from the CDC and the FDA. The recalls are ranked first based on the number of deaths and then by the number of cases.