Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lettuce Is Chief Taco Bell E.Coli Suspect

Article in the New York Times -- Shredded Lettuce Is Now Chief Suspect in E. Coli Outbreak, by Bruce Lambert:

Shredded lettuce was the “most likely” ingredient that spread E. coli bacteria in the recent outbreak among hundreds of customers of Taco Bell restaurants in the Northeast, federal health officials said last night.

The new conclusion was not based on testing of food samples, which so far have been negative for E coli. Instead, investigators surveyed what the stricken people ate and compared that with what their dining companions who remained healthy had eaten.

Those statistics narrowed the potential sources to lettuce, cheddar cheese and ground beef — all common to many Taco Bell items. Investigators then reviewed the record of those foods in past E. coli outbreaks and the way those foods are handled. The beef, for example, is cooked, and Taco Bell says the cheese is pasteurized.

“We think that shredded lettuce consumed at Taco Bell restaurants was the most likely cause of the outbreak,” Dr. Christopher Braden, an epidemiologist for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a telephone news conference. “We’re fairly confident” that lettuce is to blame, he said, but added, “we’re not done with the investigation.”


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