Source of E. coli Outbreak Still Uncertain

Although Taco Bell claims they have test results pointing to green onions from California, those results have not been confirmed.

Published on: Dec 8, 2006

Investigators have not yet officially pinned down a source product or state in the recent E. coli outbreak that has been tied to nearly sixty sickened people in the Northeast.

After officials determined Taco Bell restaurants as a common link in the outbreak, Taco Bell called green onions the culprit, pulling them from all 5,800 Taco Bell restaurants nationwide. Ready Pac Produce, Taco Bell's supplier of green onions, halted scallion production at their New Jersey plant, and one Ready Pac worker said the green onions in question came from Southern California.

Despite the buzz about another possible California-based E. coli outbreak, however, state and federal officials have been quick to point out that green onions have not actually been confirmed as the source of the bacteria. The lab that reported those results is not a state or federal lab, but an independently run contract lab running tests for Taco Bell.

"All we have been given is presumptive evidence only from a contract lab whose results we can't confirm," FDA spokesman Michael L. Herndon warns in an official statement.

Dr. Kevin Reilly, Deputy Director of Prevention Services for the California Department of Health Services, reputed the rumors at a hastily called press conference Thursday.

"The East Coast E. coli outbreak associated with Taco Bell has yet to have any connection to a specific product or to California," he says. "There are no investigators on site anywhere in California, however should a link be found we will act quickly and aggressively."

Federal authorities say they currently don't plan to issue any warnings about scallions. Investigators continue to look for a source product, examining non-meat Taco Bell ingredients such as cheese, lettuce, yellow onions, and tomatoes.