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E. Coli Forces Taco Bell to Pull Green Onions

Tests that show green onions could be to blame for an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least three dozen people in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The Taco Bell restaurant chain has stopped serving the onions. Nine people remain hospitalized.

After preliminary tests showed the onions could be the cause of the outbreak, the company removed green onions from its 5,800 restaurants around the country.

At least 65 cases of E. coli infection have been reported so far, and many of the people infected have eaten at Taco Bell restaurants. Company officials say three samples of green onions tested positive for E.coli.


New Jersey state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz says that while the tests are not final, the state has already taken precautions based on the assumption that the green onions are the culprit. On Tuesday, state and federal officials visited McClane Food Services in South Jersey, the regional distribution center for Taco Bell.

The state is also recommending that food workers be tested for E.coli infections if they work at a restaurant where an infected customer ate. Earlier this year, three people died and 200 others were sickened after eating spinach from California that had been contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The first cases were reported in New Jersey, but further cases of infection have been found in New York and Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday, Taco Bell reopened restaurants in Long Island, N.Y., that had been closed in response to the outbreak. But the company closed nine more locations in suburban Philadelphia.

In many cases, E. coli can be avoided by thoroughly cooking food and by washing hands before and after touching food.


Bresnitz says that no new cases have been reported since Nov. 30.

The New Jersey health department is now performing its own tests of the green onions, and may order tests of other food supplied by the same distributor.

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