Looking back now, I can say with certainty that 2018 made me just sick to my stomach.
I’m not just talking about that general feeling of dread that has loomed over us all this year. I’m talking about actual vomit and diarrhea-inducing sickness, the kind you pick up from contact with contaminated food and that can send you to the hospital, or worse. And boy was there a lot of that in 2018.
The US Food and Drug Administration had an, um, optimistic view of this: “I think that the issue isn’t that there’s more unsafe food,” Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNN. “I think what’s happening is that we have better technology than ever before to link outbreaks of human illness to a common pathogen.” Ok, great.
Grab a bucket. Here’s a rundown of the riskiest foods in the US this year.
1. First, there was that massive E. coli outbreak — the biggest in more than a decade — that was linked to romaine lettuce.
It was the biggest E. coli outbreak in the US in years, causing 96 hospitalizations and five deaths. Apparently, the outbreak may have been linked to a massive cattle operation near the canal where the lettuce was grown, meaning the E. coli might have come from cow poop that contaminated the water.
2. Then there were those kratom supplements contaminated with salmonella.
Eighty-seven people got sick with salmonella. While it’s not clear if kratom was responsible for all of those cases, investigators asked 55 of the sickened people about it, and 73% said they’d consumed the supplement before falling ill.
3. In April, another salmonella scare led to the recall of 206 million eggs.
Dozens of people got sick. Rose Acre Farms of Seymour, Indiana, recalled eggs under a number of labels including Coburn Farms, Country Daybreak, Food Lion, Glenview, Great Value, Nelms, and Sunshine Farms.
4. Then there were the 17 tons of ground beef that were recalled after someone found blue, hard plastic pieces in one of the products.
The good news is that no one got sick or was injured from eating the meat. But still!
5. Then began the Summer of Salmonella. By June, a bunch of people had gotten salmonella from eating precut melon.
The recalled melon was sold in clear, plastic clamshell containers at Costco, JayC, Kroger, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon.
6. Then...more salmonella: 135 people reported getting sick from eating Honey Smacks cereal.
“Do not eat recalled Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal. Check your home for it and throw it away, or return it to the place of purchase for a refund,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned.
7. The salmonella scare went on and on. In July, Mondelēz recalled 16 different Ritz cracker products due to possible salmonella contamination of whey powder.
8. Then Pepperidge Farm recalled Goldfish crackers due to possible salmonella contamination.
9. Then Flowers Foods recalled a bunch of Swiss rolls — sold under the brand names Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, Baker’s Treat, Market Square, and Great Value, distributed nationwide — and Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread due to possible salmonella contamination.
It turns out all of these products — the Ritz crackers, the goldfish, and the Flower Foods breads — used whey powder from Associated Milk Producers that might have been contaminated with salmonella.
10. Then there was the Parasite. In July, McDonald’s salads were linked to an outbreak of cyclosporiasis, an infection caused by the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis, that ended up sickening more than 500 people by September.
The cyclosporiasis scare was traced back (once again) to romaine lettuce, which was provided by lettuce supplier Fresh Express.
11. There was also concern that the Cyclospora parasite was also in certain prepackaged salads and wraps sold in Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, and Kroger that also used Fresh Express lettuce.
Fortunately, no one reported getting sick from these products.
12. Then in a separate cyclosporiasis outbreak, the parasite was found in Del Monte raw veggie trays, which sickened 250 people.
The US Food and Drug Administration said, “The investigation did not identify a single source or potential point of contamination for any of the items that comprised the recalled vegetable trays.”
13. In late July, 647 people reported getting sick after eating at a Chipotle restaurant in Powell, Ohio. The culprit: Clostridium perfringens, which is one of the most common bacterial causes of foodborne illnesses and is often found on raw meat and poultry.
14. In October, millions of pounds of salads and premade foods like burritos, wraps, and pizzas at retailers including Harris Teeter, Kroger, Whole Foods, 7-Eleven, Trader Joe’s, and Walmart were recalled due to possible listeria and salmonella contamination in onions.
The products were recalled out of caution, and there were no reports of illnesses due to these products, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
15. The major meat producer JBS recalled 6.5 million pounds of ground beef in October after an outbreak of salmonella sickened 57 people. That didn’t solve the problem, though.
As the number of sickened people increased to 250, in December JBS recalled an additional 5.1 million pounds of raw beef products. Officials worried that some contaminated products remained in consumers’ freezers and urged people to check and throw away anything that matched the beef involved in the recall.
16. Not even cake mix was safe this year. Due to yet another salmonella outbreak, Duncan Hines recalled its Classic White, Classic Yellow, Classic Butter Golden, and Signature Confetti Cake mixes.
“A sample of Duncan Hines Classic White Cake Mix that contained Salmonella Agbeni matched the Salmonella collected from ill persons reported to the CDC,” according to an FDA report.
17. Salmonella even threatened to ruin Thanksgiving. Just before the holiday, Jennie-O recalled 147,276 pounds of raw ground turkey products after a sample of its product in an unopened package from a patient’s home tested positive for the same strain of salmonella as the patient.
While 164 cases of salmonella were reported in several states, the CDC said that in November, “a single, common supplier of raw turkey products or of live turkeys has not been identified that could account for the whole outbreak.” The strain was also found in raw turkey pet food, raw turkey products, and live turkeys.
18. While romaine lettuce was the source of many food safety issues this year (including another outbreak of E. coli in November), other lettuce wasn’t safe either.
The same California farm involved in the November recall of romaine lettuce also recalled red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, and cauliflower, out of caution, even though those products didn’t test positive for E. coli.
And seriously, after a year in food scares like this, who wouldn’t rather be safe than sorry?
With reporting by Caroline Kee, Theresa Tamkins, Lauren Strapagiel, and Stephanie M. Lee.