15 Food Franchises That Have Caused Major Health Outbreaks

Generally speaking, we all know the health concerns associated with fast food and processed food. There's too much salt, too much sugar, and too much fast. Eat too much of it over the course of several years, and you might develop a chronic illness that could eventually kill you. Or, every so often, you might eat it and get deathly ill the next day.

Fast food safety scares seem to be on the rise lately. Some say this might be the result of social media and a headline-centric media culture -- any news flash involving a well-known brand is sure to generate clicks. But the truth is that food health scares have always been around, since the early days of industrialized food processing. Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle, publicized disgusting practices in the meat packaging industry, published way back in 1906. More recent investigative bestsellers, like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma, have continued to created buzz around food safety. Still, the headlines about E.coli outbreaks keep coming, and health scares at chains and large food companies crop up from time to time.

Here are some of the more egregious cases. These are the events and outbreaks that caused the biggest impact, or at least stirred the biggest media discussions. In some cases, the restaurants were at fault -- food handling practices were substandard and opened the door to serious health problems. In others, the companies themselves were the victims. This list of health scares includes legitimate outbreaks, as well as hoaxes and scams. But in every case, the nation was put on edge from a perceived health danger at a popular chain.

15 IKEA 

14 Burger King

13 Beech-Nut

12 YO! Sushi

11 Costco

10 Sizzler

9 Wendy's

8 Pat & Oscar's


7 McDonald's

China has been at the center of the global economic story for much of the last quarter century. Much of what we hear about is products that are made in China and imported into the U.S. But there has also been steady growth of U.S. companies moving into the Chinese market. This includes fast food franchises. Unfortunately, the transition to the new market has not always been smooth. There have been a couple of instances in recent years where U.S. companies operating in China have run into serious problems with tainted food.

6 Yum Brands

5 Taco Bell

Speaking of Yum Brands, the company has had its share of problems here in the U.S. as well. The firm's Taco Bell franchise found itself in the middle of a controversy in 2011 when it was reported that the beef it put on its tacos was mostly stuff other than beef. A lawsuit alleged that the seasoned beef was actually only about 35% beef. The company hit back with the claim that, no, in fact, the meat was really 88% beef. The public was not mollified. The company went on to explain that the other ingredients in the meat were things like spices and coloring - pretty much what you'd expect a wet spoonful of seasoned beef product to contain. It's Taco Bell after all.

4 Taco Bell, Again!

3 Worcester Sauce

2 Chipotle

1 Jack In The Box

Possibly the most widespread food health scare centered on the fast food chain Jack In The Box. The E.coli outbreak that was eventually sourced to the company's restaurants broke out in 1993 and affected hundreds of people. Most E.coli infections come from some sort of tainted source materials. Most of the time, the culprit is something like lettuce or celery that has been improperly handled at the processing plant. The 1993 outbreak was different in that it apparently came from undercooking hamburgers.

The company had offered a special promotion on its Monster Burgers - a move that proved more popular than restaurants could handle. In order to keep up with the high traffic they were receiving, many restaurants rushed the cooking process and ended up serving undercooked burgers. The company would later blame some of its meat distributors for the problem, though a subsequent court case seemed to prove that more thoroughly cooking the meat would have prevented the outbreak. In total, the outbreak consisted of 732 confirmed infections spread over a number of Jack In The Box locations. Four of these proved fatal, with nearly another approximately 200 complaining of long-term health problems.

Sources: CNN, NY Times, Motley Fool, Forbes, Slate, BBC, Quartz

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15 Food Franchises That Have Caused Major Health Outbreaks