December 5, 2006
Taco Bells to Reopen Despite E. Coli Outbreak
By JOHN HOLUSHA
Officials of the corporation that runs the Taco Bell chain said that all its
restaurants would be back in operation today, despite an outbreak of
apparently food-borne infection that sickened at least 39 people in
central New Jersey and on Long Island.
Speaking to an investor conference in New York, Tom Jerzyk, a vice
president of the parent company, Yum Brands, said, “We expect all T
aco Bell restaurants to be back in operation today.”
He said the company had worked with health officials to clean and re-stock
the affected restaurants — eight on Long Island and one in South Plainfield,
N.J. — and said “there is no immediate threat to customers today,” even
though the specific source of the contamination has not been definitely
New Jersey’s top health official seemed to agree that whatever it was that
infected the 39 people with E. coli, a common bacterium that can cause
moderate to serious illness if ingested, the contaminant now appears to be
out of the Taco Bell system.
“There has not been an outbreak since Nov. 29, so I think that whatever
happened went through already,” the state health commissioner,
Fred M. Jacobs, told The Associated Press on Monday.
Meanwhile, the health of the two children most seriously affected by the
E. coli outbreak improved today, according to the Star-Ledger of Newark.
One, a 10-year-old boy, was still in intensive care, though in improved
condition; the other, a 5-year-old girl, was moved out of intensive care and
the hospital’s description of her condition was upgraded to “serious.”
The two children are suffering from a serious kidney disorder that can sometimes
result from infection by certain strains of the bacterium.
The outbreak of E. coli-related illness is the largest since one reported in
mid-September that killed three people and sickened about 200. That outbreak
was traced to bagged spinach grown in California.
At the request of health authorities, Taco Bell has provided samples of the
ingredients for its Mexican-style products, and made its employees available
In a statement, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services
said there were 25 confirmed cases of E. coli infection in the state, and 12
more probable cases. All were reported in the central part of the state between
Nov. 20 and Nov. 29; nearly all appeared to be customers or workers at the
South Plainfield restaurant.
The agency said that New York health officials notified it of a cluster of
additional cases “with similar onset dates.” That would suggest that
contaminated material was distributed in the region and consumed at about
the same time, since symptoms of illness usually appear about three days
after ingesting the bacteria, the department said.
The New Jersey department said it did not expect results of its tests on
food samples before Wednesday.
Yum Brands operates 5,800 Taco Bell fast-food restaurants, some
company-owned and some franchised, as well as other chains like KFC,
Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s.
The eight restaurants temporarily closed on Long Island were in Deer Park,
East Meadow, Hempstead, Patchogue, Port Jefferson Station, Riverhead,
and in the Roosevelt Field and Broadway regional shopping malls.
Two more New Jersey outlets where people are thought to have been
exposed to E. coli, in Edison and Franklin Township, did not close.