Today, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Taco Bell restaurants in northeastern states appears to be over. However, additional cases from the outbreak period could still be identified. Based on a number of factors, iceberg lettuce is considered overall to be the single most likely source of the outbreak at this time. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to narrow its investigation by focusing its efforts on finding the sources of shredded iceberg lettuce served at the restaurants.
The peak of the outbreak occurred from the last week of November until the beginning of December. No new cases have been reported as of December 14, 2006. A total of 71 cases in five states have been reported to the CDC: Delaware (2 cases), New Jersey (33 cases), New York (22 cases), Pennsylvania (13 cases) and South Carolina (1 case this person ate at a Taco Bell in Pennsylvania). 53 hospitalizations and eight cases of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) have been reported. For the latest details about these cases, see the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/current.htm.
FDA investigators continue to expedite review of Taco Bell's records in order to trace the distribution channels of the iceberg lettuce and identify the farm or farms where the lettuce was grown, as well as all firms and facilities that handled the product.
The agency is aware of the outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 at Taco John's restaurants in Iowa and Minnesota, and is monitoring these closely in cooperation with state health authorities. Based on genetic fingerprinting of the E.coli, these outbreaks do not appear at this time to be related to the Taco Bell outbreak. FDA continues to collaborate with CDC, and with state and local health officials, to determine how these outbreaks occurred and find the source of suspect food items.