In 1993 in Seattle, Washington, several school-aged children became ill, suffering from diarrhea and stomach cramps. This was no flu outbreak, though. Epidemiologists determined that the cause of the illness was a bacterium called E. coli 0157:H7. The children had all eaten infected hamburgers at the same Jack in the Box restaurant. Overall, 500 people in the Pacific Northwest got E. coli 0157:H7 infections that year, and three of the children from the Seattle outbreak died.
The CDC used DNA fingerprinting to track the bacteria and link the illnesses in people to undercooked hamburger patties from a Jack in the Box restaurant. Hamburgers from the restaurant were recalled, preventing further illness.
The Jack in the Box incident got a lot of media attention because of the number of children who got sick and because the source of the infection was a large chain restaurant. However, such food-borne illnesses are common throughout the world, and the incidents rarely ever get media attention.
Many different bacteria—all of them with complicated-sounding names—are responsible for causing food-borne diseases. In this section you'll read about six of the most common bacteria. Fortunately, most food-borne illnesses don't last long and aren't very dangerous, but there are cases where there are possible serious long-term effects, which we'll address, too.