2018 was seemingly a real doozy of a year for food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks. Every time you turned around, it seemed something in your fridge or pantry (or on a restaurant menu) was trying to kill you — be it ground beef, lettuce, or something totally innocuous-seeming like breakfast cereal or birthday cake.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, food-related illness outbreaks aren’t necessarily becoming more common — we’re just getting better at detecting them. Thousands of food products are recalled every year, and the resulting headlines are enough to make anyone lose their appetite. But a recent USDA study showed the vast majority of home cooks don’t wash their hands properly while cooking — meaning if you get a foodborne illness, it’s probably your own damn fault.
Here now, a look at 11 of the foods that were the source of illness this year. (Note: As there were literally thousands of food recalls and hundreds of foodborne illness outbreaks in 2018, this is not intended to be a comprehensive list; rather, consider it a roundup of the most impactful and the most unusual.) But don’t let this scare you off eating entirely: While fear of explosive diarrhea from cyclospora exposure or dying from E. coli may convince some that switching to an all-Soylent diet is the way to go, remember, even that sludge isn’t necessarily safe.
Not even our nutritionally questionable sugary cereals were safe this year: In June, Kellogg recalled Honey Smacks cereal (yes, the one with the extremely cool, sideways-hat-wearing frog on the box) after 34 people were hospitalized due to a salmonella outbreak. Then in November, Quaker recalled Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter due to the possible presence of salmonella — but thankfully, the recall was limited to less than two dozen boxes sold at five Target stores.
Ugh, maybe you really shouldn’t lick cake batter from the bowl after all. In November, Duncan Hines recalled four varieties of cake mix, including the currently-having-a-moment confetti variety, for possible salmonella contamination after people in three states fell ill.
After its large-scale food safety disaster of 2016, many probably thought it was safer than ever to eat at Chipotle. Alas, this summer more than 600 people got sick after eating at a location in Ohio; the illnesses were eventually linked to a type of bacteria called clostridium perfringens, which occurs in meat or other cooked foods held at improper temperatures.
Considering where they come from, a salmonella outbreak linked to eggs perhaps isn’t so shocking. In April, an Indiana farm recalled nearly a quarter of a billion eggs for possible salmonella contamination; nearly two dozen people got sick. In September, a farm in Alabama recalled cage-free eggs that were linked to salmonella-related illnesses in 10 states; 10 people were hospitalized.
A staple food for the under-12 set, several varieties of Goldfish crackers were voluntarily recalled by Pepperidge Farm over the summer after the manufacturer of the whey powder in their cheesy seasoning detected salmonella in their facility. Thankfully for picky kids everywhere, no illnesses were reported.
The beef industry had a rough autumn: In September, a Colorado meat producer recalled more than 100,000 pounds of ground beef after an E. coli outbreak that led to 18 illnesses and one death. Then in October, an Arizona beef producer recalled 6.5 million pounds of ground beef due to salmonella concerns; in December, that recall was expanded to include more than 12 million pounds of product. All in all, the salmonella-tainted beef sickened more than 200 people.
It was a particularly rough year for salad. E. coli-tainted romaine lettuce was linked to five deaths and more than 200 illnesses in the first half of the year. Come summer, an intestinal parasite known as cyclospora (which can cause “diarrhea and frequent, sometimes explosive bowel movements”) caused McDonald’s to yank salads off the menu; shortly thereafter, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and Walgreens removed salads and wraps from their shelves for fear of possible cyclospora contamination. Then in October, E. coli struck again, sickening dozens of people across 15 states, and the FDA and CDC warned people not to eat romaine lettuce at all, leading to restaurants across the country nixing the greens from their menus. The outbreak was eventually traced back to a farm in California, and Caesar lovers everywhere rejoiced.
Earlier this year pistachios, the tree nuts that are as cumbersome to eat as they are delicious, were found to have something sinister lurking inside their beige shells: salmonella. Apparently not even those pesky outer shells can keep the nuts safe, because two different brands recalled thousands of pounds of shell-on nuts after salmonella was detected in a processing facility. No illnesses were reported, however.
Everyone’s favorite healthyish snack, hummus, took a hit this year when tahini (the sesame paste that gives the dip its nutty flavor) was linked to a handful of salmonella-related illnesses. Israeli company Achdut recalled several varieties of tahini products, and hummus lovers everywhere bravely soldiered on (hopefully without any of the bloody diarrhea that the CDC warns can result from salmonella).
Just in time for this year’s Thanksgiving festivities, the CDC warned that salmonella linked to raw turkey had sickened more than 160 people across the country and resulted in one death. While this led to brand Jennie-O recalling nearly 50 tons of products, thankfully Thanksgiving wasn’t cancelled altogether: The CDC advised consumers could still consume turkey as long as care was taken to avoid cross-contamination and cook it properly.
Whole Foods’ salad bar
Whole Foods is known for hawking healthy (if rather pricey) food, so it’s a bit ironic that the bougie grocer was apparently using takeout packaging that contained chemicals linked to cancer. After a watchdog group found that the coated paper containers used at the grocery store’s hot bar and salad bar contained high levels of PFAS, Whole Foods yanked them from its stores.