"We Were There" - E. coli  O157

“How Deadly Burgers Made Food Safer – The Impact of the 1993 E.coli  O157 Outbreak”

Image for 5th We Were There lecture - E.coli O157

Welcome to “We Were There,” a quarterly lecture series featuring past and present CDC researchers as they share their personal perspectives on historically important, CDC-led epidemiologic and laboratory investigations. This series will provide insight into the rich past of CDC and give the audience a chance to hear first-hand accounts from the responders.

In 1993, four children died and more than 700 people in four states were sickened with severe and often bloody diarrhea. Public health investigators quickly linked the disease outbreaks to Escherichia coli 0157:H7 (E. coli O157), spread through hamburgers served at fast-food restaurants. Most of the cases occurred in Washington state.

Diligent disease detective work ultimately linked the outbreak to four states: Washington, California, Nevada, and Idaho. Further disease detective work by CDC traced the likely source of the E. coli to multiple slaughterhouses that supplied the ground beef to the restaurants.

The 1993 outbreak was not the first E-coli outbreak caused by undercooked ground beef, but it wasn’t until two outbreaks in 1982 that CDC scientists linked E. coli O157 and human disease. The public outcry over the 1993 disaster was swift and fierce and led to important changes in food safety practices, such as increasing the recommended internal temperature in cooked hamburgers. In 1995, E. coli O157 became a nationally notifiable disease.

In this presentation, Patricia M. Griffin, MD; Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH; Bala Swaminathan, PhD; and Beth Bell, MD, discussed the 1993 E. coli O157 outbreak and the subsequent changes in food safety regulation. The speakers then took part in a question-and-answer session.

  • MMWR PODCAST – Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Podcast detailing the 1993 E. coli O157 Outbreak.


  • SPEAKER BIOS – Biographies for the 4 speakers featured during the “We Were There” lecture, “How Deadly Burgers Made Food Safer — The Impact of the 1993 E. coli O157 Outbreak”


  • EVENT POSTERimage icon – Poster signed by the 4 speakers: Patricia M. Griffin, MD, Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, Bala “Swami” Swaminathan, PhD and Beth P. Bell, MD, MPH.
Page last reviewed: October 11, 2017
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