E. coli Concerns California Farmers

Farmers worry that the E. coli outbreak's possible connection to green onions will damage consumer confidence.

Published on: Dec 11, 2006

The E. coli outbreak tied to Taco Bell that has sickened at least 60 people in the Northeast has raised concerns among farmers in California, the state that may once again be the source of the bacteria.

After an E. coli outbreak earlier this year was traced back to spinach from California's Salinas Valley, demand for spinach took a hit. Now, with Taco Bell blaming the recent outbreak on green onions grown in Southern California, produce farmers in the state have cause for concern once again.

Taco Bell hired an independent lab to test its ingredients in search of E. coli, and the lab says it found the bacteria in green onions in preliminary tests. Federal and state officials, however, have been quick to point out that these results are not official, and the FDA says it has no current plans to issue warnings about green onions.

Taco Bell pulled green onions from all of its 5,800 restaurants nationwide, and produce supplier Ready Pac confirmed that the suspected onions came from a Southern California farm. Although the results were unofficial, they may have already had an impact.

"Even if it turns out that the implication to green onions doesn't hold up, a lot of damage is done," says Trevor Suslow, a vegetable specialist at the University of California, Davis, according to Dow Newswires. "It certainly heightens concern and undermines confidence among consumers and buyers about the safety of products coming from the state."