The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is assisting in the investigation of an outbreak of E. coli O157 infection in consumers associated with eating food from several Taco Bell restaurants in Northeastern states. FDA is actively working with state and local health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the firm, suppliers and distributors to determine the cause of the sicknesses and prevent additional infections.
States reporting probable cases associated with the outbreak are: New Jersey (20); New York (15); Pennsylvania (7); and Delaware (1). Additional cases are suspected in these states and in Connecticut. Thirty five individuals have been hospitalized, three with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). No deaths have been reported to date. CDC reports that the first reported onset of illness connected with this outbreak occurred on November 20, 2006; the latest on December 2, 2006.
This morning, Taco Bell Corp. announced it was voluntarily removing green onions from its restaurants nationwide after preliminary tests by the firm indicated the possible presence of E. coli O157:H7 in samples of the product. To date the confirmatory test has not been reported by Taco Bell. In view of this FDA is continuing to explore the possibility of other food commodities being the source of the E. coli.
The FDA is obtaining samples of all non-meat items served in the restaurants that could carry the pathogen. These include cilantro, cheddar cheese, blended cheese, green onions, yellow onions, tomatoes and lettuce. The samples will be tested at FDA laboratories. The states involved are testing as well. At this time the agency does not have data implicating or ruling out any of these items.
The FDA also is working with Taco Bell Corp. and its suppliers and distributors to obtain information on sources and distribution of products, to aid in tracing back any products identified as contaminated with the pathogen. The agency continues to cooperate with CDC and state and local health officials to determine the specific cause of the outbreak and prevent further illnesses.
Infection with E. coli O157 causes diarrhea, often bloody. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure. HUS is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly. The condition can lead to serious kidney damage and even death.
Consumers who are concerned that they may have contracted E. coli O157 infection should notify your local health department, contact their physician or healthcare provider or seek medical attention, as needed.