Taco Bell, Distributor Probed by Federal Regulators

According to a Bloomberg report, Yum! Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell chain and a supplier are being probed by state and federal regulators after an outbreak of E. coli sickened dozens of people and the chain closed 18 restaurants.  What makes this interesting is that Green Onions may be the source of the problem – again:

Taco Bell said today it removed green onions from its 5,800 U.S. restaurants after an independent laboratory found three samples to be “presumptive positive” for E. coli O157:H7, the most dangerous strain of the bacterium.

See Marler Clark on the prior Green Onion problem tied to Chi-Chi’s restaurant.

“The fact that they’ve named Taco Bell probably makes it an open-and-shut case as to their responsibility,” said Seattle-based Bill Marler, a lawyer for plaintiffs in past E. coli suits. The New York and New Jersey health departments tend “not to point the finger at any particular restaurant until they have more than adequate facts to do that.”

Four Pennsylvania area cases of E. coli are under investigation
By: Gary Puleo, Times Herald Staff

Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in food poisoning cases, has already been contacted by three people who became sick from eating at the New Jersey Taco Bell.  "I’ve done a lot of cases in Pennsylvania," said Marler, who handled the well-publicized Chi Chi’s Hepatitis A cases a few years back.

"I think that one of the good things about this Taco Bell is that the more restaurants that are implicated in this, the easier it will ultimately be to track down what the product was that made people sick at any given time," he added. "That’s the hidden benefit of having multiple restaurants connected with this."

Marler is confident that the Taco Bell culprit is a produce item rather than meat.

"My strong suspicion in this particular outbreak is that it is likely to be something like lettuce, or the ingredients in the salsa, something that isn’t cooked … basically from the farm, washed and onto consumers, whether it’s at home or in a restaurant," he said.

"Taco Bell had an E-coli outbreak in 1999 in California that was tied to their taco meat, and after that they went to pre-cooking their product before it got to the restaurants. All hamburger is cooked before it ever gets to the restaurants, and then it’s just warmed up.  "So I think it will be really unlikely that it is the hamburger," he said. "You have to see if the same lot of hamburger products went to all those restaurants."

Marler noted that the Taco Bell cases seemed to be mounting rapidly by Tuesday.  "Between New Jersey, New York and now with Pennsylvania coming in it sounds like it will be well over 40 cases," he said. "So it’s getting to be pretty substantial."