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The Errors and Events That Contributed to the E-Coli Outbreak in 1993

“There are now more than two hundred known diseases transmitted through food. The Jack in the Box outbreak is a cautionary tale that points out the significance of food safety” (Benedict, 2011). When it comes to food, safety is always the most important thing because a simple error like not heating to the right temperature might lead to poisoning that could cause long-term effects on the victims and, in some cases, death. Therefore, the level of safety measures needed for food and other food products should be maintained from the producers, suppliers, and transportation to preparation. Another essential part of food production and delivery is the legislation and the laws put in place by policymakers to ensure that the general population is given the highest quality foods that will not poison or lead to an outbreak of chronic diseases like E-coli or Salmonella.

The E-coli outbreak in 1993 is an excellent example of what can happen when food is mishandled at any stage of the preparation. The primary cause of E-coli has been identified to be the “consumption of undercooked ground meat,” which then leads to the development of the deadly HUS, especially in children. Therefore, the conclusion made on the outbreak was that the children who suffered HUS had consumed undercooked ground meat that had the E-coli pathogen. This means that several errors were made in production, manufacturing, and cooking at Jack in the Box restaurants.

The errors and events that contributed to the outbreak with the entities involved

Jack of the Box

As the place where that spread the pathogen through their hamburgers, Jack in the Box had made a significant omission which ultimately caused infections on the victims. The Washington state had put in a food regulation that ensured that meat was supposed to be cooked to an internal temperature of 155⁰, the temperature at which the E-coli pathogen would be killed. However, it came as a shock that the officials from the company, including the President and the recently promoted VP, who was an expert on food safety and should have been aware of the regulation, primarily since their company mainly deals with meat products. They had maintained the Federal government regulation of cooking meat to an internal temperature of 140⁰, which could not terminate the pathogen, making them the primary entity responsible for the outbreak. Jack in the Box, as the significant hamburger outlet in the state with over sixty-six restaurants in Washington state, was ignorant of all the possible diseases caused by eating undercooked meat. Another significant omission found later by the victim’s lawyer Bill was that all the outlets linked to the outbreak were using old grills that kept the cooking temperature lower, explaining why some of the restaurants did not affect their consumers despite getting the meat from the same supplier, Von.

Reading through Benedict’s book, it is evident that none of the officials from the company knew about the A-coil pathogen and how lethal it can be to the consumers. Their ignorance of the pathogen made them fail at putting up restaurant regulations on how to ensure their many consumers would not be affected by the disease. The food microbiologist that the company hired during the crisis, Dave Theno, notes that Jack in the Box did not have any meat specifications handling the E-coli pathogen (Benedict, 2011). That means that none of their chain of processes from transportation, storage, handling, or preparation had any internal protocols of preventing E-coli contamination or interventions that can be taken in case of contamination. Therefore, even though the company did not create the pathogen in the beef, they are still responsible for the outbreak because they did not take the necessary precautions to ensure that their consumers ate quality and safe food, especially since their clientele included children who could succumb to the pathogen very fast without any way to reverse the effects of the pathogen.

Therefore, as a restaurant with many consumers, the officials of Jack in the Box should have been up to date with any changes in the legislation, every possible foodborne disease that might come as a result of eating any of their products, and having specifications for their food substances to prevent contamination from any pathogen. They should have also cooked the ground meat to the right temperature as regulated by the Washington state health department. These actions could have prevented the outbreak, and no consumer’s life would have been lost.

The health department

Another entity responsible for the outbreak was the department of health, especially under the federal government meat specification, to prevent the E-coli pathogen. In collaboration with the health department, the federal government needs to establish proper rules and regulations that ensure that every person delivering food gives the people safe and high-quality food, whether in terms of the produce or the final product. The federal government’s regulation on the temperatures to which meat should have been cooked was 140⁰, where they believed that the pathogen could be killed at this temperature, of which any temperatures above this would be overcooking the meat. This is the temperature required for restaurants to adhere to, and Jack in the Box used the same temperature. However, the Washington state regulation was 155⁰, which is different from the federal government’s. One can then deduce that these authorities should have agreed on the same regulations that would ensure every meat consumer is protected, whether at home or in restaurants. The Washington health department and the national health department should have worked together to change the minimum temperature regulation for cooking meat to be implemented all over the country because any meat containing the pathogen can infect the population if not killed at the right temperature.

Therefore, if the cases had been from restaurants that were not under the boundaries of the Washington state regulations, they would have been right in cooking their meat to 140⁰ internal temperature because that was the national regulation by the federal government. Therefore, they would not have been legally responsible for the outbreak, and other entities could have been blamed. The authorities also failed to publicize the 1982 E-coli outbreak caused by McDonalds’ which would have informed the other restaurants on the pathogen and how fatal it can be for the population. Sharing the information on more platforms would have been very informative for many businesses, so they wouldn’t have been as ignorant of the pathogen as Jack in the Box when the outbreak occurred. The regulations need to be thorough and evidence-based, especially when dealing with food that can be lethal in poisoning, to ensure there are no extreme cases of poisoning, whether in restaurants or the food cooked at home, and avoid the cases like the outbreak in 1993.

The health department can be said to be responsible for not warning people of the lethal E-coli strain since the outbreak in 1982. It came as a shock and a new thing for the general population when it finally hit many people in 1993. Benedict (2011) notes that “it seemed to Bill that if one of the most popular foods in America had had a health risk associated with it, consumers should have been made aware of it,” especially since departments like the CDC and the USDA had been involved in the investigation if the first case. They failed in warning the population and giving an appropriate national regulation for cooking meat to avoid outbreaks of the pathogen. The regulators and lawmakers had wrong in being too casual about E-coli despite knowing its fatality and causes.

The suppliers

The suppliers also contributed to the outbreak because they ignored their purpose of providing safe products to their customers. Even though the significant responsibility for the outbreak lies on Jack in the Box, Von, their suppler, also violated the Meat Inspection Act that requires them to supply food that is not adulterated or contaminated. They should also be liable for testing their products for any contamination and provide their customers with the report of the tests to make them aware of any meat bacteria that needs to be eliminated for the consumers to get the best quality products. The suppliers also ought to get their products from farms that rear their animals most naturally to ensure the possibility of some bacteria associated with industrial farming is limited.

At the production level in the farm

A significant entity that contributed to the outbreak was at the beginning of the food chain at the production of beef cows in industrial farms where many beef cows were raised to provide the conventional meat sold in the market. According to Benedict (2011), Dave Theno knew that the problem was caused by feeding cows corn instead of grass that they can naturally break down using their enzymes. These industrial cows are fed corn because corn is way cheaper, readily available, and fattens the cows quickly for consumption in a market where the demand for beef is high. There are also thousands of cows in the industrial dens. Changing the cows’ diets from what they are supposed to eat naturally, grass to corn, increased their risks of getting the E-coli pathogen in their intestines. In a commercial environment, when a cow’s intestine with the pathogen is cut, it can rapidly spread to the other cows and the beef that is supposed to be consumed.

The pathogen can spread quickly, especially in an industrial environment where the meat is ground in large quantities for hamburger production. Therefore, the industrialization of agriculture is one of the factors that contributed to the spread of the pathogen in beef cows, which could not be tracked to just one cow. Loads of meat ground in the same equipment also increase the chances of contamination of the beef supplied to the market. Therefore, beef production is blamed for its sizeable industrial nature that makes the cows be fed corn that increases the risk of E-coli in their intestines and uses the same equipment for the same beef before testing the beef for any bacteria.


Overall, every entity mentioned, including Jack in the Box, the health department, the supplier, and the production, contributed to the outbreak that could have been prevented in the different levels with specific measures. The role of these entities is to ensure that the consumers ultimately the quality and safe products that will not infect them with any bacteria or pathogen that can threaten their lives, and they all collectively failed in doing that either, directly like Jack in the Box or indirectly like the health department that should ensure proper laws and regulations are put in place nationally. The health department failed the people because they did not make the existence of E-coli public even though it had a dangerous and lethal strain that could cause death fast. They also failed in collaborating with the federal government to ensure that they also increased their temperature requirements for cooking meat. On the other hand, the suppliers did not test their products appropriately and provided reports to their customers showing whether the meat was contaminated. The production level is also an initial cause of the bacteria in the intestines of beef cows through what they feed them and the grinding process. The outbreak could have been prevented if the different entities had worked to keep the customers healthy and free from poisoning.


Benedict, J. (2011). Poisoned: The true story of the deadly E-coil outbreak that changed the way Americans eat. February Books.


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