Taco Bell and its suppliers continue to work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the investigation of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections that may be linked to restaurants in four states.
CDC has identified 67 probable or confirmed cases in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and one case in South Carolina. In the majority of the illnesses, individuals reportedly ate at a Taco Bell restaurant within seven days before onset of the illness. Other causes of illness are also under investigation. Among the 67 cases, 51 people were hospitalized and eight people developed a life-threatening type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we switched our produce supplier for all of our produce, including white onions, for New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware," said Greg Creed, President of Taco Bell Corp. “Since the independent scientific laboratory tests on all of our ingredients have concluded negative for E. coli, we have no information regarding any Taco Bell ingredient linked to this outbreak."
Indeed, FDA testing of samples of food items from Taco Bell restaurants have found no E. coli O157:H7. The government has said that an open bin of white onions tested positive for the bacteria, but representatives indicated that it is a completely different strain and had no relation to this E. coli outbreak.
CDC is conducting an ongoing "case control" study that involves interviewing ill and well restaurant patrons about what food items they consumed, raw ingredients in particular. By comparing foods consumed by ill and well persons, investigators hope to show statistical links to particular food ingredients. The CDC has concluded that green onions, which Taco Bell voluntary removed from its restaurants following a preliminary investigation, are probably not linked to the outbreak.
"Based on this testing and all that we know today, I can reassure you that all Taco Bell food is safe and strict standards are being upheld at all of our restaurants. The majority of the restaurants that we voluntarily closed have been re-opened,” said Creed. “We will continue to work with the FDA, CDC and local, state and federal health authorities in their ongoing investigation to get to the root cause of this issue.”
Taco Bell serves more than 35 million consumers each week in nearly 5,800 restaurants across the United States.