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Northeast E. Coli Outbreak Linked to Taco Bell

Dec 5, 2006 | The popular Mexican fast-food outlet Taco Bell temporarily closed nine stores in New York and New Jersey due to fears of E. coli contamination. So far, there have been 25 confirmed cases of food poisoning in New Jersey and 14 more in Long Island. Eight of the stores, four in New York’s Nassau County and four in Suffolk County are slated to reopen after health officials and restaurant representatives declared that the threat had passed, and one outlet in New Jersey should reopen shortly.

There has not been a definitive connection made between the outbreak and the eateries, but the large majority of the infected patients had eaten at Taco Bell prior to being sick. All of the closed stores use the same distributor. There have been no reported cases of E. coli infection since November 29.

According to a Taco Bell press release, “While these restaurants have not been confirmed as the source of an E. coli outbreak, Taco Bell decided as a precautionary measure to throw out all existing food and bring in new food. In addition, the company completely cleaned and re-sanitized the restaurant, utensils, and all cooking equipment.”

Two of the victims are in serious condition after suffering from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a kidney disorder that is a complication of E. coli infection and can lead to permanent kidney damage. For most E. coli victims, the infection leads to abdominal pain, fever, and diarrhea, but young children and seniors are more susceptible to serious illness or death. Symptoms usually appear between three and eight days after exposure to the bacteria. The most common cause of infection is eating undercooked beef. More than 70,000 Americans are infected annually with the dangerous strain of E. coli, resulting in approximately 60 fatalities per year.

Taco Bell, a division of Yum Brands, seems convinced that the threat is no longer an issue. According to Reuters, Tim Jerzyk, Yum's vice president of investor relations, told Wall Street analysts this morning that “the E. coli strain appears to have passed through our system,” although it is unclear whether Jerzyk’s pun was intentional or not.

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