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Taco Bell Corp. confirms it was informed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that it has concluded a statistical analysis on the company's food ingredients indicating lettuce appears to be the most probable source of the E. coli outbreak in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The CDC reconfirmed that this outbreak is limited to these four states only, and that no person has become sick after eating at Taco Bell since December 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. Our team of experts, including Dr. Mike Doyle, a world renowned food safety expert who is consulting with us, has been working around the clock with the CDC, FDA, and state and local health authorities since the date of the first onset to try to pinpoint the source of this outbreak. We continue to be deeply concerned for those who have become sick," says Greg Creed, president of Taco Bell Corp.
The CDC's analysis is based on a statistical probability after conducting interviews with those who have become ill. Lettuce is served in approximately 70 percent of all Taco Bell menu items, which increases the probability it is the source according to the CDC. Taco Bell hired an independent scientific laboratory, Certified Laboratories in Plainview, New York, which conducted tests on more than 300 samples of all the ingredients served in Taco Bell restaurants. No ingredient, including lettuce and cheese, tested positive for the E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria. All cheese used by Taco Bell is pasteurized and because of this, it is highly unlikely to be the source of the illness, according to the CDC.
The lettuce supplied to Taco Bell restaurants in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware was grown by various farmers and shipped to the company's former produce supplier. The lettuce was rinsed, cleaned and packed, and sent to a distribution center in Burlington, New Jersey, for shipment to all Taco Bell restaurants in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Taco Bell purchases less than 20 percent of the lettuce produced by this supplier. The remaining 80 percent of the lettuce is sold to others throughout the region. Taco Bell switched produce suppliers for the region to Taylor Farms on December 9 as a strictly precautionary measure. All the lettuce sold in these restaurants today is from a different source, and anything sold prior to December 3, the last date of illness related to Taco Bell, has long been sold or discarded.
"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," Creed says. "In addition, we've been informed by the CDC and FDA that a handful of the people who became ill did not eat at Taco Bell.
"We are committed to our customers to supporting an industry coalition including government regulators, competitors, suppliers, and other experts so we can develop improved guidelines and procedures to safeguard the produce supply chain and public health."