Taco Bell linked to nationwide Salmonella outbreaks

Taco Bell has been linked to two Salmonella outbreaks involving two different strains of the bacteria that has sickened more than 150 people in 21 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

In the CDC's new release, the chain is identified as "Mexican-style fast food Restaurant Chain A," but has since been confirmed as Taco Bell. The CDC said both strains -- Salmonella Baildon and Salmonella Hartford -- detected are rare. The illnesses connected to the outbreaks peaked in June, but have yet to be linked to any specific source other than something consumed at the restaurants themselves.

"Among persons eating at Restaurant Chain A, no specific food item or ingredient was found to be associated with illness for either outbreak," the CDC said. "The FDA also sampled and tested produce items and did not find either outbreak strain. As with previous outbreaks in which contaminated produce may be the factor, produce tracebacks present substantial challenges because of the short shelf life of the product and the industry's comingling of product from multiple sources."

The CDC said Taco Bell has been helpful in the investigation, which is being conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and various state health departments.
It is still not clear whether the outbreaks are isolated to Taco Bell restaurants.The CDC did not respond to requests to comment on the situation.

Taco Bell did not answer any questions from Consumer Ally, but instead sent this statement attributed to Anna Ohki, the company's chief quality assurance officer:
"We take food safety very seriously and our food is perfectly safe to eat so our customers have absolutely no cause for concern."

The illnesses were reported between April 30 and July 19. Of the 80 consumers in 15 states identified as having been infected with Salmonella Baildon, 27 have been hospitalized, the CDC said. Here are the states where people have fallen ill from Salmonella Baildon and the number of cases reported: Connecticut (1), Georgia (1), Iowa (1), Illinois (20), Indiana (4), Kentucky (5), Massachusetts (1), Michigan (4), Minnesota (5), New Jersey (6), New York (2), Ohio (6), Oregon (1), Washington (1) and Wisconsin (22).

At least 75 people -- 15 of whom were hospitalized -- in 15 states have been connected to the Salmonella Hartford outbreak. Kentucky, with 23 cases, had the largest outbreak of Salmonella Hartford thus far. Here are the states where people have fallen ill from the Salmonella Hartford strain and the number of illnesses reported: Colorado (1), Georgia (1), Illinois (5), Indiana (11), Kentucky (23), Massachusetts (2), Michigan (3), Montana (1), North Carolina (1), New Hampshire (1), New York (1), Ohio (19), Pennsylvania (1), South Carolina (1) and Wisconsin (4).

This is not Taco Bell's first high-profile episode of food poisoning. Four years ago Taco Bell was linked to an E.coli outbreak that was a nightmare for the company. Green onions were identified as the source of the contamination connected to at least 71 people getting sick.

Here are some Salmonella facts from the CDC:

  • Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection.
  • The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days.
  • Although most people recover without treatment, severe infections can occur. Infants, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness.
  • When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
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