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Green onions served at Taco Bell restaurants tested positive for e.Coli, making them a possible source of contamination which infected 65 people in New Jersey, Long Island and Pennsylvania. The onions were pulled from all 5,800 Taco Bell restaurants in the nation, The New York Times reported.
Taco Bell might only be a bystander in a larger contamination, as several people that were sickened did not eat Taco Bell, according to David Daigle, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, investigators were confident that Taco Bell was the source of infected food.
Investigators began looking into a distribution center operated by McLane Foodservice, in Burlington, N.J., that delivers food to more than 1,100 foodservice operations in the Northeast, the report stated. Taco Bell confirmed that the company's beef, lettuce and other ingredients came from the distribution center, the report stated. At press time, the distribution source of the green onions was still unclear.
McLane was called into the investigation by Taco Bell's parent company, Yum! Brands, said Bart McKay, associate general counsel for McLane, in a telephone interview with the Times. "We're beginning with Burlington," he added.
New Jersey Health officials and investigators from the Food and Drug Administration began inspections at McLane's warehouse, where they will search through purchase and delivery records to find the source, the report stated.
Another one of Taco Bell's suppliers is being called into question. Ready Pac Produce, of Florence, N.J., processes lettuce, tomatoes and onions used in the restaurants, the report stated.
The green onion recall was precautionary based on the preliminary testing by an independent laboratory hired by Taco Bell. "While tests are preliminary and not yet conclusive, three samples of green onions were found to be presumptive positive," the company stated. "Upon learning of the presumptive positive results, the company took immediate action by notifying health authorities and its restaurants," it continued.
Green onions were linked to an outbreak of hepatitis A in 2003 when served in a Western Pennsylvania Chi-Chi's restaurant that led to three deaths and about 600 people became ill.
Testing began after an outbreak of food poisoning expanded earlier this week to cases in Montgomery County, Pa. The company closed nine restaurants there, and will remain closed until health officials approve reopening. Since the middle of last week, no additional cases of illness have been reported, but epidemiologists in New Jersey and New York continue to monitor the situation.