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Taco Bell E. coli Outbreak Probed

Taco Bell Pulls Green Onions from U.S. Restaurants as a Precaution
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 7, 2006 -- Taco Bell, the CDC, and the FDA are investigating an E. coli outbreak possibly linked to green onions at Taco Bell restaurants that may have sickened at least 47 people in four states.

Taco Bell has removed green onions at all of its approximately 5,800 restaurants in the U.S. The move is "strictly a precautionary effort" based on preliminary tests, states Taco Bell in a Dec. 6 news release.

"In an abundance of caution, we've decided to pull all green onions from our restaurants until we know conclusively whether they are the cause of the E. coli outbreak," says Taco Bell president Greg Creed in the news release.

E. coli is bacterium. There are hundreds of strains of E. coli.

The strain seen in the Taco Bell cases is E. coli 0157:H7, which can cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea, often with bloody stools.

Most healthy adults recover from E. coli infection in about a week. But E. coli infection can have serious complications, including a form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

Outbreak Cases

Probable cases tied to the outbreak have been reported in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, with suspected cases in Connecticut, the FDA announced yesterday.

At least 35 people have been hospitalized, three of whom have HUS, according to the FDA.

Illness onset dates range from Nov. 20 through Dec. 2, according to the CDC.

"The vast majority of patients reported eating at a particular fast food restaurant chain, Taco Bell," the CDC states in a Dec. 6 news release.

Preliminary tests done by a company hired by Taco Bell suggest that three samples of green onions may have been contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7, according to Taco Bell.

Those results aren't conclusive. Investigators are also looking at other possible sources of E. coli infection.

Taco Bell has set up a toll-free phone number, (800) TACO-BELL, for customers or employees with questions about the outbreak.

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