Jack in the Box E. coli Outbreak
A 1993 Washington Department of Health E. coli outbreak investigation led to the discovery that regular-sized hamburger patties and “jumbo” hamburger patties produced by Von Companies of California and sold by Jack in the Box were the source of a massive E. coli outbreak. The outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was isolated from 11 lots of hamburger patties produced on November 29 and 30, 1992, and Jack in the Box issued a recall of all ground beef produced on that day that was still in restaurants.
Since the ground beef identified as the source of the outbreak had been distributed to Jack in the Box restaurants in Washington, Idaho, California, and Nevada, all states investigated cases of bloody diarrhea that had been reported since November 15, 1992 to determine whether patients had eaten hamburgers from Jack in the Box in the days before becoming ill. By the end of February 1993, the states had reported the following:
- Washington reported 602 patients with bloody diarrhea or HUS. 477 Washingtonians were culture-confirmed with E. coli infections, with illness onset peaking between January 17 and January 20, 1993. 144 people were hospitalized; 30 developed HUS, and three died.
- Idaho reported 14 culture-confirmed E. coli O157:H7 cases with illness onset dates between December 11, 1992 and February 16, 1993. Four people were hospitalized; one developed HUS
- California reported six culture-confirmed cases, with 34 patients meeting the outbreak-case definition with illness onset dates between November 15 1992 and January 31, 1993. Fourteen people were hospitalized; seven developed HUS, and one child died.
- Nevada reported only one culture-confirmed case, with 58 other patients meeting the outbreak-case definition with illness onset dates between December 1, 1992 and February 7, 1993. Nine people were hospitalized; three developed HUS.
Seventy-three Jack in the Box restaurants were ultimately identified as part of the E. coli outbreak and recall.
Over the course of the outbreak investigation and the litigation that followed, documents from Foodmaker, the San Diego-based parent company of Jack in the Box, revealed that the company had been warned by local health departments and by their own employees that they were undercooking their hamburgers prior to the outbreak, but the company had decided that cooking beef to 155 degrees, the standard set by WDOH, made the meat too tough.
Lawyers now at Marler Clark handled most of the litigation, which resulted in individual and class-action settlements totaling more than $50 million. Visit the Marler Clark Website to learn more about the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak and litigation that followed.