The Absolute Worst Food Recall Of All Time

It seems like every few months there's a news item about yet another food product that's been recalled. After an initial brief rush of paranoia — "Do I have that in the fridge? Wait, didn't I finish it off last week? Just how long do those symptoms take to develop?" — sooner or later we tend to get pretty desensitized... at least, until the reports of hospitalizations start rolling in. 

While many food recalls tend to be precautionary in nature and don't involve reports of anyone actually sickened by the product in question, still, about one out of every six Americans will suffer some form of food poisoning each year, and food poisoning causes 3,000 deaths each year (via Healthline). Hmm, maybe we should start heeding those product recall warnings a bit more, since you really can't be too careful when it comes to avoiding food poisoning.

While foods can be recalled for a number of reasons, the worst food-borne illnesses that resulted in product recalls are as follows: salmonella, E. coli, botulism, listeria, and hepatitis A. The recalled product that single-handedly sickened the largest number of people in recent history was a 2015 case where cucumbers imported from Mexico infected 907 people with salmonella, but the absolute worst food recall, causing the highest number of fatalities, involved contaminated cantaloupes that were thought to have killed 33 people in 2011 and an additional 10 people who died at a later time.

The deadly cantaloupe recall

Cantaloupe is a surprisingly dangerous fruit whose skin is a breeding ground for bacteria — which are then transferred to the fruit when it is cut. The recalled cantaloupes involved in 2011's notorious food poisoning incident came from Jensen Farms near Holly, Colorado, a facility that was later investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Colorado state health officials. 

Their inspection revealed that a full third of the cantaloupes tested contained listeria bacteria, but the cantaloupes, which had been distributed by Frontera Foods, were pulled from the market too late to prevent 147 people in 28 states from becoming seriously ill, and 43 of them from dying as a direct result of consuming those contaminated cantaloupes. To date, this cantaloupe-borne listeria infection has been the most deadly food recall in recent history — and this is one record we sincerely hope to see stand for a long, long time.