Drug-related outbreaks are frequently reported from various medical departments. A systematic review was performed to describe characteristics of these outbreaks and to determine the most frequent occasions in which contamination of substances for patient care take place. Articles were assessed by a search of the outbreak database, a search of PubMed, and hand search of reference lists from relevant articles. Articles published before 1990 were excluded. Data on affected patients, hospital-acquired infections, substances, pathogens and graded information about the location of the contamination incidence were extracted. A total of 2250 patients in 128 articles were included, mostly from intensive care units or haematological departments. Septicaemia was the most frequent hospital-acquired infection. Most often articles report contamination of blood products and heparin-sodium chloride solutions. The most frequent pathogens were hepatitis A virus, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Serratia spp. for blood products and Burkholderia cepacia and Enterobacter spp. for substances other than blood products. Mortality was highest if red blood cells or total parenteral nutrition formulas were contaminated. In 64 of the outbreaks multi-dose vials had been used against the manufacturers' recommendations. Thus, drug-related outbreaks are likely to occur particularly when basic hygiene measures are disobeyed. A large proportion of drug-related nosocomial infections could have been prevented, for example, by avoiding the use of multi-dose vials.