1992–1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak

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1992–1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak was a significant foodborne illness event in the United States, involving the fast food chain Jack in the Box. The outbreak was caused by the Escherichia coli O157:H7 bacterium, leading to severe illness in hundreds of people and resulting in the deaths of four children. This incident not only had a profound impact on the victims and their families but also led to substantial changes in food safety regulations and practices in the fast food industry.

Background[edit | edit source]

Jack in the Box is a popular American fast food chain known for its hamburgers. In late 1992 and early 1993, several locations in the Pacific Northwest, primarily in Washington, Idaho, California, and Nevada, were linked to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections. The source of the infection was traced back to undercooked beef patties served in the hamburgers.

Outbreak and Response[edit | edit source]

The outbreak was first identified in January 1993, when an unusual number of children were admitted to hospitals with bloody diarrhea and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure. Epidemiological investigations by health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) traced the infections back to the consumption of hamburgers from Jack in the Box restaurants.

In response to the outbreak, Jack in the Box immediately cooperated with health officials and recalled the contaminated beef. The company also implemented new cooking procedures to ensure that all beef patties were cooked to a temperature that would kill E. coli bacteria.

Impact[edit | edit source]

The 1992–1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak had a profound impact on public health and the fast food industry. It resulted in over 700 infections and four deaths. The outbreak highlighted the need for stricter food safety standards and led to the implementation of new regulations regarding the cooking and handling of food.

In the aftermath, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced new guidelines for cooking beef, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its food safety standards. The outbreak also led to the passage of the Pathogen Reduction/HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) systems in meat and poultry processing plants, aiming to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.

Legacy[edit | edit source]

The Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak remains one of the most significant foodborne illness outbreaks in U.S. history. It served as a wake-up call for the fast food industry and regulatory agencies, leading to improved food safety measures and greater public awareness about the risks of foodborne illnesses. The incident has been studied extensively and is often cited in discussions about food safety and public health.


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD