Food Poisoning in the News: Taco Bell and E. coli

Beginning on November 20, 2006, an outbreak of the bacterium Escherichia Coli O157:H7 (E. coli) was linked to Taco Bell restaurants in the northeastern United States. On December 14, 2006, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the outbreak appeared to be over.

71 Cases Reported

At least 71 cases were reported to the CDC in 5 states: New Jersey (33), New York (22), Pennsylvania(13), Delaware (2), and South Carolina (1 case of a person who at a Taco Bell in Pennsylvania). Among these 71 individuals, 53 (75%) were hospitalized and 8 (11%) developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). The peak time that persons became ill was during the last week of November.

Cause of Outbreak

The most likely cause of this E. coli outbreak was the consumption of shredded Iceberg lettuce. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with state health agencies and the CDC to investigate the precise source of the shredded lettuce and to pinpoint where the lettuce originated.It is too soon to tell how the lettuce may have become contaminated.

Early reports suggesting a link to the consumption of green onions were inaccurate and unconfirmed.There is no indication that any type of onions, including green onions,are unsafe or are connected in any way this E.coli outbreak.

What is E. coli?

Escherichia coli O157:H7 (commonly called "E. coli") is one of hundreds of strains of the pathogenic bacterium Escherichia coli.Although most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, this strain produces a powerful toxin and can cause severe illness.

Infection can cause diarrhea, which is often bloody. Most healthy adults recover completely within a week. However, infection in the very young, the elderly, or health compromised individuals (such as those with weakened immune systems), can be much more serious. Some may develop a type of kidney failure called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a condition that can lead to permanent kidney damage and even death.

Advice for Consumers

Consumers who are concerned that they may have contracted E.coli O157:H7 infection should contact their health care provider to seek appropriate medical evaluation and treatment.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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