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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Notice something

(AP Photo/Ric Francis, File)
Hmmm, stomach illness is cool

Reports of Illness Spread as Searchers Zero In on E. Coli Source

Published: December 8, 2006

Even as health officials and food distributors zeroed in yesterday on a California farm as the possible source of the contaminated green onions that have sickened Taco Bell customers, the E. coli outbreak widened considerably, with cases reported for the first time in New York City, Delaware, South Carolina and Utah.

In all, the number of cases that have been reported ballooned, to at least 169 yesterday, with most concentrated on Long Island and in New Jersey.

In New York, health officials said they were investigating 103 confirmed or suspected cases in 10 counties, up from 49 on Wednesday. Nearly three-quarters of the cases were found on Long Island, but cases were reported for the first time in New York City as well as Westchester, Rockland, St. Lawrence and Herkimer Counties.

In New Jersey, 12 new cases were reported, bringing the total to 55. There were no new cases reported in Pennsylvania, where seven people have been sickened thus far. In Delaware, one case was confirmed and another was suspected. According to federal health officials, “the vast majority of patients reported eating” at a Taco Bell.

As the list of those sickened by a dangerous strain of E. coli called 0157:H7 grew, the focus of the investigation turned to Boskovich Farms in Oxnard, Calif., which grows the green onions, also known as scallions, for the supplier of Taco Bell.

For now, the outbreak has led Taco Bell to remove the green onions from its 5,800 restaurants nationwide while the company and health officials try to determine where along the supply chain the bacteria spread.

“We’re focused on working with the authorities to find the root cause,” said Rob Poetsch, a spokesman for Yum! Foods, which owns Taco Bell.

Laboratory tests performed yesterday by the New York State Health Department in Albany showed that the same virulent strain of the bacteria — which can lead to bloody diarrhea, anemia and, in some cases, kidney failure — was present in patients who ate at restaurants on Long Island, in Clinton County in upstate New York and in Delaware.

But for now, the foremost question was where the problem started. It is still unclear whether the green onions were contaminated at Boskovich Farms in California, where they were grown; at the Ready Pac Produce plant in Florence, N.J., where they were cut, washed and sanitized; or at the huge warehouse of McLane Foodservice in Burlington Township, N.J., which then distributed the vegetables and other ingredients to the Taco Bell outlets in eight Northeastern states.

Boskovich, which began growing green onions on its farms 40 years ago, provided the green onions that led to a hepatitis outbreak that began at a Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Pennsylvania in 2003.

As the inquiry into the outbreak continued, the family of an 11-year-old Long Island boy who fell ill after eating at a Taco Bell in Riverhead on Nov. 24 filed a lawsuit against Taco Bell in State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Wednesday seeking an undisclosed sum in damages.

The boy, Tyler Vormittag, of Medford, was hospitalized on Nov. 28 after becoming dehydrated and spitting up blood, according to the family’s lawyer, Andrew Siben. Tyler was released from the hospital the next day.

“When you go to a restaurant and you order food, it is deemed fit for human consumption and free of any harmful substances,” Mr. Siben said. “We allege that Taco Bell breached that duty.”

Mr. Poetsch, the spokesman for Yum! Foods, said yesterday that he was not aware of the suit, nor did he know of any others being filed against the company.

But lawyers at the Marler Clark firm in Seattle said it was considering filing a complaint on behalf of about a dozen people who also became ill after eating at Taco Bells in the New York area.

As the number of cases of E. coli continued to grow, so did complaints about oversight of the nation’s food supply.

Think about the number of these outbreaks during the Bush Admininstration.Maybe lax administration and industry friendly rules might be an issue?

posted by Steve @ 12:31:00 AM

12:31:00 AM

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