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At least 39 individuals were infected by e.Coli in Central New Jersey and Long Island after eating food from Taco Bell last month, according to reports in The New York Times.
Taco Bell, which operates 5,800 outlets across the country, closed one location in South Plainfield, N.J., where 20 customers and two workers were sickened. Eight other locations on Long Island also closed, in what the company called a temporary precaution to sanitize and restock locations where the bacteria had been found, the report stated.
Since the middle of last week, no additional cases have been reported, but epidemiologists in the two states continue to monitor the situation. State investigators are delving into the source of the outbreak, however none has been found to date. Tests on the food's ingredients are not expected to be complete until later today.
"Health officials have indicated that there is no immediate threat and whatever may have occurred most likely has passed through the system," Greg Creed, the chain's president, told the Times. Because of this, most of the closed locations were set to reopen yesterday, according to Associated Press reports.
The chain purchases food in bulk from a few suppliers and, as a result, many of the chain's 290 restaurants in New York and New Jersey could be at risk.
The announcement of the outbreak was delayed for some time in New Jersey, due to concerns over the public's reaction. "You don't know how things are going to escalate," David A. Papi, the director of the Middlesex County Public Health Department told the New York Times. "We didn't have a lot of information. It was sketchy. You make decisions with the best information you have."
Some critics questioned the reasoning for the delay. "I don't know why they didn't make that immediately known, and I don't know why they didn't do rush inspections of every other Taco Bell in the area," said Carol Tucker Foreman, head of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. "They purchase huge amounts of everything from a few suppliers. If you've got contaminated anything in one of their restaurants, you've got it in many. That's the nature of fast food."
"We have a significant, serious outbreak going on here," said Papi. Officials believe that the illness came from the food, not the workers at the locations, he added. "We have to find the food they all had in common," he told the AP.