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E. coli found in East Coast Taco Bells

Taco Bell has conducted a nationwide recall of its green onions Wednesday after 22 people were sickened and nine were hospitalized on the East Coast.

Health officials noted that E. coli has been found in three samples of green onions in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Of its 5,800 restaurants nationwide, only 11 Taco Bells – all from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – have indicated an E. coli outbreak, according to Yahoo! News. Nine victims remain hospitalized, including two in critical condition with kidney damage, one being an 11-year-old boy.

Taco Bell claims that the tests are not conclusive and that it has taken the necessary precautions.

There have not yet been any outbreaks of E. coli from Taco Bells on the West Coast.

“In an abundance of caution, we’ve decided to pull all green onions from our restaurants until we know conclusively whether they are the cause of the E. coli outbreak,” said Greg Creed, president of the Irvine-based Taco Bell.

As a result, Taco Bell had to temporarily close and sanitize some of its restaurants, including eight in Long Island, N.Y., and nine in suburban Philadelphia.

E. coli is a common and ordinarily harmless bacteria in the feces of humans and livestock, but certain strains can cause abdominal cramps, fever, diarrhea, kidney failure, blindness, paralysis and even death.

Rob Poetsch, spokesman of Taco Bell, said there is no indication what exactly the source is thats harming these individuals and that Taco Bell is looking into all possibilities. Authorities said people who became ill in New Jersey had eaten at one of the fast food restaurants between Nov. 17 and 28.

“We have to find the food they all had in common,” said David Papi, director of health for Middlesex County, New Jersey.

The distributor, Texas-based McLane Co., said Taco Bell representatives and state and federal health inspectors toured the distribution center in Burlington, N.J., that supplied the eight Long Island restaurants and the three in New Jersey. Federal investigators plan on testing five produce items – green onions, regular onions, cilantro, tomatoes and lettuce -from their southern New Jersey warehouse. No meat samples were requested.

“It involves tracking your way back and trying to see if by process of elimination you can determine the root of the cause. By all appearances, the focus seems to be on one or more produce supplies,””said Bart McKay, an attorney for McLane Co.

Rosemary Hirum, an American Language Institute professor, was unaware of the mass recall, but was pleased by the way Taco Bell handled it. Despite some criticism regarding the timing of the recall, Hirum said he believes Taco Bell did the right thing.

“One good thing was that they did it immediately and got the word out. I’m impressed,” Hirum said.

One who was not impressed was W. Timothy Coombs, a crisis communications expert at Eastern Illinois University who has written extensively on how companies handle such situations.

“If I was giving a grade, I’d give [Taco Bell] a ‘C,'” Coombs said.

Coombs said he believes that Taco Bell wasn’t vigorous enough in explaining its response to the E. coli problem, saying there wasn’t any information on the company’s Web site when the news broke Monday.

“[The Internet is] one of the first places to put information and gives you a direct way to talk to the public that is unfiltered,” Coombs said.

Carol Tucker Foreman, head of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, also criticized the company and health officials because they learned about the first case of E. coli on Nov. 28, but did not close the last of the restaurants until two days later, she said.

“This is a killer bug. This is more than just a bellyache,” Foreman said. “The minute they discovered they had more than one case, that’s when they should start going into high gear.”

Despite the E. Coli appearing on the East Coast, some Californian Cal State Long Beach students did realize the outbreak had happened.

Even though Mark Kayano, an undeclared major, knew about the E. coli scare, it didn’t stop him from ordering his three tacos.

“I’m not really scared about it,” Kayano said. “It was the same as E. coli with spinach. If it’s one or two vegetables it won’t affect you that much; just stay away from it.”

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