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IRVINE, Calif. -- After the completion of a statistical analysis on Taco Bell's ingredients, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told the company that it appears that lettuce is the most probable source of the E.coli outbreak that sickened more than 70 people in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
The conclusion is based on statistical probability after it conducted interviews with those that became sick from eating the restaurant's food. Lettuce is served in about 70 percent of the brand's menu items, which increases the likelihood that it is the source, according to the CDC.
"Lettuce is sold in approximately 70 percent of our products. We would expect the vast majority of those who ate at Taco Bell to have consumed lettuce, so we can understand how the CDC has concluded their statistical probability analysis," said Taco Bell president, Greg Creed.
The CDC determined that ground beef, cheese and the lettuce were the most probable causes, but eliminated cheese as it is pasteurized, and beef because it is pre-cooked.
There is no indication at this time that the lettuce and cheese served at any other restaurant or foodservice operation is connected to the possible contaminated ingredients served at Taco Bell, the FDA stated.
The FDA is currently focusing its investigation on finding the sources of lettuce that was served and supplied by ReadyPac. Taco Bell stated that the lettuce came to its supplier from a variety of farms across the nation, and once received, was washed and processed at ReadyPac's facilities. Taco Bell received only 20 percent of the lettuce that the supplier processes, according to the restaurant.
As a "precautionary measure," Taco Bell switched produce suppliers for the region from ReadyPac to Taylor Farms. Any lettuce currently being used at the restaurants came from this supplier, and any of the lettuce provided by ReadyPac to the chain has been discarded or sold, the company stated.
When the outbreak was discovered, the company hired Certified Laboratories, of Plainview, N.Y., to test more than 300 samples of ingredients served in its restaurants. No ingredient -- including lettuce and cheese -- tested positive for the E.coli strain that caused the illness, the company stated in a written statement. However, earlier reports stated that one ingredient did in fact test preliminary positive for the E.coli strain that sickened the individuals -- green onions.
The company reported that no individuals have become sick from Taco Bell's food after Dec. 3.
"I want to reassure our customers that our food is perfectly safe to eat. Food safety is Taco Bell's number one priority, and we have taken immediate actions to safeguard the public's health from the moment we learned of an E.coli outbreak associated with our restaurants," said Creed.
However, in early reports, there is evidence that information was withheld from the public for some time after the outbreak was discovered. In a New York Times report on Dec. 5, it stated that an announcement of the outbreak was delayed for a period of time in New Jersey, due to concerns over the publics reaction.
"You don't know how things are going to escalate," David A. Papi, the director of the Middlesex County Public Health Department was quoted as telling the Times.