Coming to Netflix in August: Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food

Netflix has now unveiled that Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food will flight globally on August 2, 2023. Here’s more about this ground-setting true story….

FOODStuff SA announced this last November – and here’s what you can expect from the documentary based on the book Poisoned by Jeff Benedict published in 2011 and which has an updated cover to reflect the Netflix adaptation).

In the winter of 1993, the Jack in the Box E coli outbreak catapulted the dangers of foodborne illness into the public eye and left enduring repercussions in the worlds of medicine, law and food policy. With “Poisoned,” Jeff Benedict manages to deliver the full literary experience of a medico-legal thriller in a work of non-fiction that, fortuitously enough, could not be more relevant to recent headlines.

At the end of 1992, Jack in the Box was the fifth-largest fast-food chain in the country, courting the market with the Monster Burger and its soon-to-be-immensely-regretted slogan, “So good it’s scary”.

The first sign of trouble was a desperately ill girl in San Diego (this was Lauren Rudolph, who died in late December 1992, and in whose memory a pivotal 1996 California food safety act is named). Then dozens of children were sickened in Washington State, and the hamburger connection slowly became clear.

Over a period of a few weeks, more than 700 cases scattered across four Western states; four children died gruesomely, with bleeding intestines and kidney failure. Benedict, a lawyer turned journalist, pays relatively little attention to the story’s medical complexities; his focus is the gruesome and complicated legal tangle that ensued.

View the trailer here

Nowadays, we are all too familiar with the practices of giant processing plants, but back in those innocent times it was all new and appalling — the poorly regulated slaughterhouses, the batching of meat for grinding, the wide distribution of product, which maximized the spread of any contaminant.

Meanwhile, it turned out that Jack in the Box corporate cooking policies left some patties so noticeably underdone that at least one restaurant manager had complained. Further, almost a year earlier the State of Washington had mandated a cooking temperature for burgers higher than the usual federal standard, a regulation that people at Jack in the Box had apparently never heard of. Or had they? The situation quickly became a lawyer’s dream come true.

Enter a legal David and his Goliath. Bill Marler was a financially struggling young lawyer who, through a series of happenstances, came to represent Seattle’s most damaged victim. This girl was given up for dead in the intensive care unit (“her appearance reminded him of a mummy, shriveled, brittle, haunting”), only to survive with significant disabilities.

Through a series of ingenious tactical maneuvres, Marler then became the lawyer for other local cases, as well as for a large class-action suit.

His opponent was Bob Piper, an established Seattle lawyer retained by Jack in the Box. A stout, hard-drinking man who sported pictures of nude women on his suspenders, Piper was known to be devastatingly effective in court.

Also involved were a large crowd of other men in suits, including the hapless chief executive of Jack in the Box and the company’s beleaguered food safety experts, all of whom managed in interviews to be simultaneously contrite and defensive, while paying intermittent lip service to thousands of employees financially dependent on the company’s staying afloat.

By the time it was all over, Marler had won $15.6-million for his young client, setting a record for the largest personal-injury award in state history, and wheels were set in motion to clean up the nation’s ground beef. (In 1996, Taco Bell suffered its own outbreak, but the culprit turned out to be lettuce.)

In the years since the Jack in the Box outbreak, Bill Marler has become one of the country’s leading legal authorities on food safety. Read the full story here