When there was a multistate outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis in October, the Centers for Disease Control would identify the culprit only as "Mexican-style, fast-food Restaurant Chain A." Turns out, that's longhand for Taco Bell. At the time, the CDC refused to name the restaurant chain, saying there was no public-health reason to do so, according to Food Safety News. This despite the fact that 68 people in 10 states had been sickened, with nearly a third of them requiring hospitalization.
Confirmation that Taco Bell was central to the investigation comes in a document from the Oklahoma State Department of Health's Acute Disease Service, "Summary of Supplemental Questionnaire Responses Specific to Taco Bell Exposure of Oklahoma Outbreak associated cases Multistate Salmonella Enterititis Outbreak Investigation." Oklahoma was second only to Texas (43 cases), with 16 confirmed cases in the outbreak. Ill Oklahomans reported onset dates from Oct. 21 to Nov. 18, 2011. Other affected states were Kansas (2), Iowa (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1) and Tennessee (1).
The CDC said its investigators have not been able to identify a specific product as the cause of the outbreak, according to Nation's Restaurant News. The agency said evidence suggested the Salmonella that contaminated food sold by "Chain A" had been introduced during manufacturing or along the supply chain before the product was delivered to the chain's establishments. However, the agency states, "Ground beef was an unlikely source."
The outbreak appears to be over, but WTF, CDC? If Taco Bell is making people sick, the public has a right to know so they can choose to eat some other crappy fast food.
CDC officials say that because the agency is not regulatory in nature, it defers to state authorities to decide whether or not to publicly name businesses implicated in food-borne illness outbreaks. They said they release the names of such companies only if doing so would protect the public from an ongoing health threat or is necessary to further a recall. Even with the "outing" by Oklahoma, the CDC still is not naming Taco Bell on its website.
So when almost six dozen people in 10 states have been sickened in a particularly unpleasant way after eating at a specific, nationwide fast-food restaurant chain, that does not qualify as an ongoing health threat? Lame.
Oh, and by the way, there were also two multistate Salmonella outbreaks associated with "Mexican-style, fast-food Restaurant Chain A" in July and August 2010.
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Irvine-based Taco Bell Corp. issued the following statement:
The CDC has stated the public health is not at any risk, and this incident is completely over. They have not identified the food source of the food-borne illness that occurred in October and November of 2011. The CDC indicated that some of the people who were ill ate at Taco Bell, while others did not. They believe that the problem likely occurred at the supplier level before it was delivered to any restaurant or food outlet. We take food quality and safety very seriously.
Oh really, TB? Then how do you explain this?
Follow Samantha Bonar @samanthabonar.