Jack in the Box Wiki

The 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak occurred in 1993 when 732 people were infected with the Escherichia coli O157:H7 bacterium originating from undercooked beef patties in hamburgers.[1][2][3] The outbreak involved 73 Jack in the Box restaurants in California, Idaho, Washington and Nevada and has been described as "far and away the most infamous food poison outbreak in contemporary history."[4][5][6] The majority of the victims were children aged under 10-years old.[7][1] Four children died and 178 other victims were left with permanent injury including kidney and brain damage.[8][9][10]

The wide media coverage and scale of the outbreak was responsible for "bringing the exotic-sounding bacterium out of the lab and into the public consciousness" but was not the first E. coli O157:H7 outbreak resulting from undercooked patties. The bacterium had previously been identified in an outbreak of food poisoning in 1982 (traced to undercooked burgers sold by McDonald's restaurants in Oregon and Michigan) and prior to the Jack in the Box incident there had been 22 documented outbreaks in the United States resulting in 35 deaths.[11]


Health inspectors traced the contamination to the restaurants' Monster Burger sandwich which had been on a special promotion (using the slogan So good it's scary!) and sold at a discounted price.[11][12] The ensuing high demand "overwhelmed" the restaurants and the product was not cooked for long enough or at a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria.[13] Subsequent investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified five slaughterhouses in the United States and one in Canada as "the likely sources of [...] the contaminated lots of meat."[14]


Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), addressing a congressional hearing on food safety in 2006, described the outbreak as "a pivotal moment in the history of the beef industry."[15] James Reagan, Vice President of Research and Knowledge Management at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), said that the outbreak was "significant to the industry" and "the initiative that moved us further down the road [of food safety] and still drives us today."[16] As a direct result of the outbreak:

  • E. coli O157:H7 was upgraded to become a reportable disease at all state health departments[17]
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) increased the recommended internal temperature for cooked hamburgers from 140°F to 155°F[4][17]
  • The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) introduced safe food-handling labels for packaged raw meat and poultry retailed in supermarkets, alongside an educational campaign alerting consumers to the risks associated with undercooked hamburgers[4][17]
  • The FSIS introduced testing for E. coli O157:H7 in ground meat[4]
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reclassified E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant in ground beef[8]
  • The USDA introduced the Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (PR/HACCP) program[4][8][18]
  • The NCBA created a task force to fund research into the reduction of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle and slaughterhouses[4]
  • Jack in the Box completely overhauled and restructured their corporate operations around food safety priorities, setting new standards across the entire fast food industry.[16]
  • A new advertising campaign created by Richard "Rick" Sittig, then working at the TBWA\Chiat\Day ad agency in Santa Monica, California, brought back the original company mascot, Jack, in the form of a savvy and no-nonsense businessman who happened to have an enormous round clown head.[19]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Schlosser, Eric (2001). Fast Food Nation. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780141006871.
  2. Nestle, Marion (2 July 2010). Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2nd Revised ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520266063.
  3. Other big E.Coli outbreaks. South Wales Echo (Cardiff). 11 March 2008. p. 9. ProQuest document ID 342321106.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Golan, Elise; Roberts, Tanya; Salay, Elisabete; Caswell, Julie; Ollinger, Michael; Moore, Danna (April 2004). "Food Safety Innovation in the United States: Evidence from the Meat Industry". Agricultural Economic Report (United States Department of Agriculture) (831).
  5. Hanlon, Michael (21 May 2001). "The making of a modern plague". Daily Mail (London). p. 30. ProQuest document ID 321207886.
  6. Denn, Rebekah (13 May 2011). "Poisoned author Jeff Benedict examines the current state of food safety in the US". The Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA). Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  7. Hunter, Beatrice Trum (2009). Infectious Connections. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications. ISBN 9781591202448.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Roberts, Paul (2008). The End of Food. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9780747588818.
  9. Rogers, Lois (16 April 1995). "Killer in beef spreads alarm". The Times (London). p. 1. ProQuest document ID 318273338.
  10. Sylvester, Rachel (11 June 1995). "Children risk death from burger bug". The Sunday Telegraph (London). p. 9. ProQuest document ID 309266408.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Drexler, Madeline (23 December 2009). Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143117179.
  12. Manning, Shannon D. (1 April 2010). Escherichia Coli Infections (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 9781604132533.
  13. Green, Emily (6 June 2001). "The Bug That Ate The Burger". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles). Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  14. Davis, M. (16 April 1993). "Update: Multistate Outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 Infections from Hamburgers - Western United States, 1992-1993". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) (Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 42 (14).
  15. Food Safety: Current Challenges and New Ideas to Safeguard Consumers: Hearing Before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, United States Senate, 109th Cong. 76 (15 November 2006) (statement of Senator Dick Durbin).
  16. 16.0 16.1 Andrews, James (11 February 2013). "Jack in the Box and the Decline of E. coli". Food Safety News (Seattle, WA). Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Benedict, Jeff (16 May 2011). Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat. Buena Vista, VA: Inspire Books. ISBN 9780983347804.
  18. Pathogen Reduction; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems, 61 Fed. Reg. 38806 (1996).
  19. "Jack in the Box, Inc.", The Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns, (Gale Group, 2006), ISBN 978-0787673567, vol. 2, pp. 811ff - via HighBeam Research (subscription required).
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