December 13th, 2006 05:41 EST
FDA Continues Investigation of E. Coli O157:H7 Cases Associated with Taco Bell Restaurants
The Food and Drug Administration is continuing its investigation of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to eating food from Taco Bell restaurants in 5 states. FDA is collaborating with state and local health officials, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the firm to identify the cause of the outbreak.
The peak of the outbreak occurred in the last week of November. The number of new cases being identified has declined substantially. For the latest details about these cases, see the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2006/december/120806.htm.
Number of Cases
CDC today reports 67 probable or confirmed cases of illness associated with the outbreak: 30 cases in New Jersey, 22 cases in New York, 12 cases in Pennsylvania, 2 cases in Delaware and 1 case in South Carolina (a person who became ill after eating at a Taco Bell in Pennsylvania). In the vast majority of the cases, individuals reported having eaten at a Taco Bell restaurant within seven days before onset of illness. Other cases of illness are under investigation by state public health officials. Among the 67 cases, 51 were hospitalized and 8 developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Illness onset dates range from November 20 to December 5.
Source of Outbreak
The source of the outbreak has not been determined, although it is presumed to be a contaminated food or foods. Testing by FDA of samples of food items from Taco Bell restaurants has found no E. coli O157:H7. CDC is conducting an ongoing "case control" study that involves interviewing ill and well Taco Bell restaurant patrons about what food items they consumed. By comparing foods consumed by ill and well persons, investigators can show statistical links to particular food ingredients. Of those ingredients, those consumed raw are of particular interest. The CDC study is demonstrating that onions are probably not linked to this outbreak.
On December 6, Taco Bell Corp. announced it was voluntarily removing green onions from its restaurants nationwide after preliminary tests by the firm indicated the possible presence of E. coli O157:H7 in samples of the product. However, more sophisticated and reliable confirmatory tests conducted by FDA on the same samples tested negative for the presence of E. coli O157:H7.
FDA has been working with Taco Bell Corp. and its suppliers and distributors to obtain information on sources and distribution of products, to aid in tracing back any product found to be contaminated with the bacteria or identified by the CDC case-control study as a vehicle of transmission.
E. coli O157:H7 Infection
Infection with E. coli O157:H7 causes diarrhea, often bloody. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a form of kidney failure. This condition is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly. The condition can lead to serious kidney damage and even death. Consumers who are concerned that they may have contracted E. coli O157:H7 infection should notify their local health department, and contact their physician or health care provider to seek medical attention as needed.
FDA will provide additional updates on this investigation as more information becomes available.