The E. coli that sickened 81 Taco John’s patrons in Minnesota and Iowa last month has been traced back to California according to a report by Sabin Russell, San Fransisco Chronicle Medical Writer.

Another outbreak of E. coli food poisoning has been traced to a farm in California — this time to an unidentified Central Valley lettuce grower [I have learned that it is a grower near Bakersfield] whose crops were planted in proximity to a dairy farm where cow manure tested positive for the bacteria. An investigation by the FDA and state health officials has discovered that manure samples from a California dairy farm bore the same strain of E. coli found in the Taco John’s victims.  [See video of lettuce growing].

Eight-one patrons of Taco John’s restaurants in Iowa and Minnesota were sickened between Nov. 28 and Dec. 6 by a strain of E. coli O157:H7 that was genetically distinct from the bugs that caused other recent outbreaks — including the more widely publicized case of 71 consumers sickened after eating at Taco Bell restaurants in five eastern states during the same time frame.

Brian Dixon, a spokesman for Taco John’s at its corporate headquarters in Cheyenne, Wyo., said every carton of produce used by the restaurant chain is coded with information to allow a trace-back of the production cycle. He said that after the outbreak — isolated to 3 of the chain’s 430 outlets — the company changed its supplier to the affected region as “a precautionary move.” He declined to identify the supplier. [Taco John’s had previously identified the supplier as Bix Produce of Minnesota].

However, in an article by Rong-Gong Lin II and Mary Engel of the Los Angeles Times: Lettuce was culprit in latest cases E. coli outbreaks in November are linked to the Central Valley -‘Fundamental fixes’ in food safety are urged, both the Taco Bell and the Taco John’s E. coli-contamianted lettuce came from California.

Prepackaged iceberg lettuce from California has been linked to two separate outbreaks of E. coli that sickened more than 150 Taco Bell and Taco John’s customers late last year on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Taco Bell’s tainted lettuce was traced, via packaging, to farms in the Central Valley, although no specific sources have been named. The Taco John’s produce was traced both to the Central Valley and to the coast south of Salinas.

The Taco Bell and Taco John’s outbreaks are No. 21 and 22. Outbreaks 21 and 22 also showed that problems in California extend beyond the Greater Salinas Valley, where the tainted spinach was grown.

According to the FDA, People began falling sick after eating at the fast food chains Taco Bell and Taco John’s in November. In the Taco Bell outbreak, which involved restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, seventy-one fell ill and 53 were hospitalized. The Taco John’s outbreak involved three eateries in Minnesota and Iowa. Eighty-one were sickened, including 26 who were hospitalized.

Irwindale-based Ready Pac Produce previously disclosed that it was the lettuce supplier for the 452 Taco Bell restaurants in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the states where the outbreak occurred.