The CDC announced on Thursday that the latest outbreak of E. coli may be over and the total numbers are coming in:
This outbreak was clearly linked to Taco Bell restaurants in the northeastern United States. As of 12 PM (ET) December 14, 2006, Thursday, 71 persons with illness associated with the Taco Bell restaurant outbreak have been reported to CDC from 5 states: New Jersey (33), New York (22), Pennsylvania (13), Delaware (2), and South Carolina (1). States with Taco Bell restaurants where persons confirmed to have the outbreak strain have eaten are New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Among these 71 ill persons, 53 (75%) were hospitalized and 8 (11%) developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS).
The latest likely source of the outbreak appears to be lettuce:
“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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement.
“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.”
I can only imagine how hard it must be to track a bag full of chopped lettuce back to the farm of it origin. Add to that investigating any place that lettuce may have been handled from the farm to the restaurant and you have a daunting task.
The second question here is, what effect has this case had on Taco Bell?
“It is too early for us to determine the financial impact,” said Greg Creed, Taco Bell’s president, even as he acknowledged that there had been some sales declines.
Some industry watchers were more forthcoming. “It could be extremely bad,” according to Bob Goldin, executive vice president of consultancy Technomic. “Jack in the Box was almost destroyed when it happened to them,” he said, referring to the 1993 E. coli outbreak at the hamburger chain that poisoned hundreds of customers and killed four.
“It’s a function of media attention,” Goldin continued. “The longer you cover this story, the worse it is going to get. People don’t want to play Russian roulette with their food.”
All I can say is, I worried about their food before this outbreak. I mean really, when you can “get full” for only a couple of bucks, they have to be cutting corners somewhere.
Shakespeare’s Sister: In all seriousness, this makes me fairly nervous. I mean, no one cooks lettuce. If you eat it, you’re eating it raw. I don’t like that consuming anything uncooked seems increasingly to be a dodgy proposition.
The Uncooperative Blogger: I donâ€™t know how you people out there can eat at fast food restaurants anymore. You cannot trust the food supply anymore and I wonder why that is? Who picks the vegetables? Who works in the food processing plants?
Sister Toldja: Usually when you see the word â€œimplicatedâ€ in a story or headline, itâ€™s something along the lines of â€œMan implicated in the death of neighborâ€ or something like that. Lettuce being implicated, however, is something you donâ€™t read much about as it relates to sinister activity â€¦
TV Week: But other crisis management firms say thatâ€™s not enough: That Taco Bell needs to launch a broad, mainstream TV campaign that explains how the restaurant picks suppliers and maintains quality control.