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International Outbreak Museum

Portland, OR

800 Oregon Street seems like an entirely unremarkable government office building at first glance. But up on the 7th floor, tucked away into a cramped office space, you’ll find the world’s only museum dedicated to outbreaks of foodborne illness and infectious disease.

The International Outbreak Museum was created by the late Dr. Bill Keene, a senior epidemiologist who had a remarkable impact on the field of food safety. Dr. Keene was known around the world for his persistence, curiosity and enthusiasm for fieldwork. In the 23 years he worked for the Oregon Public Health Authority he and his team were able to trace the origins of numerous foodborne illnesses.

It’s not a stretch to say that he was responsible for saving hundreds, or potentially thousands of lives.

Dr. Keene’s museum began with the evidence he collected during these investigations. Often just a scrap of food packaging or receipt from a store, these items filled the bookshelves in his office for years. At some point he decided to turn his collection into a museum. As it grew, so did the effort he put in. If he couldn’t find a good representation for an exhibit he’d purchase a replica, or figure out how to craft it himself. After one outbreak of salmonella, he put together an office fundraiser until he had enough money to purchase a realistic fake, raw whole chicken.

Most of the exhibits in the International Outbreak Museum are related to foodborne illness, but viral and bacterial infections transmitted through other means also have a home here. The museum even includes an exhibit from Oregon’s famous 1984 Rajneeshee bioterrorism attack.

Dr. Keene passed away in 2013. His collection is still in his office, now run by The Northwest Center for Foodborne Outbreak Management, Epidemiology, and Surveillance. It’s kept up by volunteers to inform and educate, but also out of respect and remembrance for a man who made a lasting impact in public health.

The museum is open for tours by appointment only. Visitors will learn a lot about Dr. Keene and his work, although they might never look at fast food, cookie dough ice cream, or frozen pizza in the same way again.

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