The Fast-Food Burger That Was Twice As Deadly As Panera’s Lemonade

Even its name recognized its monstrous qualities
The Fast-Food Burger That Was Twice As Deadly As Panera’s Lemonade

If you haven’t gotten around to trying Panera’s famous lemonade that kills people, you’ve (luckily?) missed your chance. The company has discontinued its line of Charged Lemonades in the wake of lawsuits regarding “the deaths of two customers and irreversible health complications in another.” That’s not a new development, Panera was just reluctant to pull the products lest they appear to be admitting guilt, which really just made it seem like a challenge. Alas, safety won out over vibes.

But this isn’t the first time a single fast-food item was responsible for multiple deaths — or even the one with the highest body count. That title goes to Jack in the Box’s Monster Burger, a sandwich that boasted two quarter pound beef patties, three slices of cheese, eight slices of bacon and knowledge of all your sins that debuted in January 1993. It immediately became so popular that the restaurant’s cooks were forced to rush through the assembly process and serve burgers that weren’t fully cooked to meet the demand, resulting in catastrophe because, unbeknownst to them, several restaurants on the West Coast had been supplied with beef contaminated with E. coli. More than 700 people, mostly in Washington, got sick, dozens had to be hospitalized and undergo dialysis and four of them died. Not a painless death, either. The symptoms of E. coli infection begin with bloody diarrhea and only get worse from there.

If you know what E. coli is, this is largely why. Until the late 1980s, the general public had never heard of it, throwing back rare meatballs and beef tartare with wild abandon. Then changes in our food supply resulted in hardier strains and higher prevalence of E. coli, mostly due to the way our cows are fed and killed. It’s best if we don’t go into too much detail and you don’t think about it too much. The point is that raw beef’s “find out” era had begun.

“No poop germs in our food” also became a much more political issue than you’d expect. The deregulation crowd was obviously not a fan of proposed new regulations designed to limit contamination, Bill Clinton wanted to hire 160 new meat inspectors at a time when a lot of people hated both government bloat and Bill Clinton, the USDA and CDC had beef— Wait, um, bad bloo— Ugh, you get it.

But its cultural impact was arguably much more profound. People don’t eat rare hamburgers anymore, and every steakhouse menu has that little asterisk and a warning at the bottom that they’re not responsible if you like your meat edible. It took Jack in the Box years to recover, with a strategy that involved pulling all advertising and hiring the best food-safety experts money could buy, to the point that their standards are much higher than other fast-food restaurants, in case you were suddenly afraid of your churros.

In fact, you can still get the Monster Burger. It was rebranded briefly as the Colossus and now as the Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger, whose only difference is that it has three slices of bacon instead of eight, but there’s no limit to the amount of extra bacon you can order. Trust us, we’ve tested. If you’ve eaten this burger, you understand why it caused pandemonium. There’s no word on whether Panera will bring back its lemonades with less lethal amounts of caffeine, but it almost certainly won’t be as tempting to risk death by blood shit.

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