Taco Bell implicated in two salmonella outbreaks sickening more than 150

The always colorful and geographically precise, Bill Keene, senior epidemiologist with Oregon Public Health, told The Oregonian yesterday that mystery Mexican-style fast food chain restaurant A is Taco Bell.

"It’s been clear for weeks that Taco Bell was the source for many of the illnesses. It’s equally clear that it’s not all Taco Bell. It’s also not a single Taco Bell restaurant."

The first cases appeared at the beginning of April and continued through the third week in July. Dozens were sickened in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, with a sprinkling of cases across the rest of the country. One person in Oregon — a woman in her 20s in Klamath County — got sick.

Keene said,

"It’s very striking to have two such similar outbreaks at roughly the same time and both of them affecting Taco Bell. The similarities might be a coincidence."

Although no one food or menu item has been named a culprit, Keene said epidemiologists think that lettuce, tomatoes or both were to blame.

"It’s not 100 percent sure it’s one or the other but those are the chief suspects," he said. "We’ve been unable to tease them apart because everyone eats both."

Keene said the food involved in the outbreaks was clearly contaminated before reaching Taco Bell franchises.

"It’s not something that they’re doing wrong. One of the products that they using in their food was contaminated."

The company did not return a phone call seeking comment.

CDC officials would not confirm that the company involved in the outbreaks was Taco Bell.

Naming a restaurant could have an economic impact on the company’s bottom line, said Kristen Nordlund, an agency spokeswoman.

The outbreak is also considered to be over though both the FDA and CDC are continuing to investigate.

"There’s no inherent reason for people to stop eating at Taco Bell now," Keene said.

Runs from the border: Taco Bell is mystery Mexican-style restaurant chain ‘A’ 155 sick across US since April

"I’m about to have the worst case of taco sh**s."?

That prophetic line offered by Clarissa before engaging in a good-natured game of "Battlesh**s" with Christy in the movie, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, has been experienced by some of the 155 sick with salmonella who ate at a Taco Bell since April.

Earlier today, Phyllis Entis of eFoodAlert.com received independent confirmation that Mystery Mexican-style restaurant A was indeed Taco Bell.

In Dec. 2006, in the wake of the E. coli O157:H7 in spinach mess that killed four and sickened 200, Taco Bell became the butt of endless haranguing by David Letterman after the same bug in lettuce sickened over 100 people (“Their old slogan used to be ‘think outside the bun.. The new slogan is, ‘look outside for the ambulance.’” See the video clip, below).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said yesterday that no specific food item have been fingered but fresh produce was suspected.

The spinach outbreak of Sept. 2006 was supposed to be the tipping point (although I have argued the tipping point for fresh produce should have been the 1996 E. coli O157:H7 in Odwalla juice outbreak): for farmers dealing with collapsed markets; for retailers who say they were now going to get serious about questioning their suppliers; and, for consumers who now realize that fresh produce is a significant source of foodborne illness and are voting with their wallets and their forks how can they know if the fresh stuff is safe??

The way this information trickles out does nothing to instill confidence, just like the salmonella outbreak and subsequent recalls in Fresh Express lettuce earlier this year. It’s nice that Taco Bell fully co-operated with CDC and other health types, but they can do better: brag about food safety requirements and back it up by making test results public, market food safety at retail so consumers can choose, and if people get sick from your product, be the first to tell the public.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us; we should eat more, even at Taco Bell. Because fresh produce is just that – fresh, and not cooked — anything that comes into contact is a possible source of contamination. Every mouthful of fresh produce is an act of faith — faith in the growers, distributors, processors, retailers and our own hands.?

Some in the farm-to-fork food safety system want more of the same: stronger checks of good agricultural practices on the farm (which have been available but not necessarily followed or enforced since 1998); more research on how dangerous bugs get on or in healthy produce; more vague press releases.?

The American economy is driven by competition and the produce sector should compete for the food dollar in grocery stores and restaurants across the country, using safety as a selling point. The farmers or company that uses the best science to keep poop off the plate matched with employee commitment through a strong food safety culture, will capture the imagination of a hungry public..

May the best food safety system win.? The diarrhea twins from Harold and Kumar will be first in line.

Top 10 fast food movies: Kumar and 4/20 modified version

After I republished Shadowlocked’s top-10 fast food movies last week, I received numerous e-mails insulting my pop culture knowledge and questioning my sanity.

How could I not include Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Harold and Kumar go to White Castle?

I didn’t make the list. I commented on it.

Harold and Kumar though deserves special attention for a number of reasons.

It’s 4/20.

It’s a fabulous movie about racism in America.

I made Chapman watch it one afternoon at my house in Guelph while eating grilled steak.

And Kumar – who goes by Kal Penn – was apparently robbed at gunpoint last night while walking in a neighborhood in Washington D.C.

Here’s Willie Nelson celebrating 4/20 somewhat prematurely on Larry King.

Campbell, KFC won’t buy spent hens, but US school lunch program will

Colonel Sanders and KFC won’t buy them.

Campbell Soup stopped using them more than a decade ago because of "quality considerations."

Yet as reported in today’s USA Today, the U.S. National School Lunch Program is an awesome outlet for egg producers struggling to find a market for 100 million egg-laying hens culled each year.

From 2001 through the first half of 2009, USA TODAY found, the government spent more than $145 million on spent-hen meat for schools — a total of more than 77 million pounds served in chicken patties and salads. Since 2007, 13.6 million pounds were purchased.

Because the hens are usually restricted to tiny cages, they often suffer from osteoporosis and have especially brittle bones that easily splinter. When schools reported bones in the chicken, the government stopped purchases for school meals in April 2003. After new provisions aimed at preventing bone splinters — and lobbying by the trade group, United Egg Producers — purchases resumed that July.

Besides the bones issue, some scientists believe spent-hen meat is more likely to carry salmonella, which can be especially dangerous for children. A 2002 study by Washington State University’s Avian Health and Food Safety Laboratory found that spent-hen carcasses were four times more likely than broilers to be contaminated with salmonella. The spent hens in the study were from a single plant, so the results offer no proof that similar problems occur on a broader scale. …

Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture say spent-hen meat is safe and nutritious. "Mature hens must comply with the same safety standards as any other chicken processed and sold to consumers," says Rayne Pegg, head of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Still, the USDA is buying fewer spent hens today. In 2006, it purchased 30% of all spent hens processed nationwide; now, it buys less than 10%.

Craig Brooks, who oversees food distribution at the South Carolina education department, isn’t sorry to see fewer spent hens.

"The taste just didn’t go over."

U.K. targets listeria risk in old people – when will Canada?

I got an e-mail from the vice-president of communications for Maple Leaf Foods on Saturday afternoon.

She was sending me a blog that her boss, Michael McCain wrote, about his new knowledge of listeria and the role of food safety inspectors.

I figure she’s making at least $150,000 to do her vp communicating, so, even though I was a dick, I felt OK responding,

“Thanks for forwarding this in a timely manner. I blogged about it yesterday.”

It was about 24 hours earlier.

And while McCain and Maple Leaf go about enhancing their communications reputations, even the mother country, land of the cook-your-turkey-till-it’s-piping-hot advice, has decided listeria is a problem, maybe we can’t rely on manufacturers, maybe listeria is everywhere like Michael McCain says, so maybe we better tell old people they could be at risk.

The U.K. Food Standards Agency commissioned a bunch of research and figured out that people over the age of 60 are more likely to take risks with ‘use by’ dates than younger people and that eating food like cold-cuts beyond its ‘use by’ date increases the risk of food poisoning from listeria.

A recent sharp rise in the number of people taken ill with listeria has seen more older people affected. The number of cases rose by 20% in 2007 and has doubled since 2000, this increase occurring predominantly among people over 60.

The number of cases of listeria in people over 60 years of age has doubled in the past nine years. And one in three of the people who get food poisoning caused by listeria die as a result.

Listeria is a type of food poisoning bacteria that can live and grow in a wide range of food – chilled ready-to-eat food in particular – for example pâté, cooked sliced meats, certain soft cheeses and smoked fish.

Dr Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist at the FSA, said,

The rise in listeria food poisoning among older people is worrying. Listeria can make people very ill, and 95% of cases end up needing treatment in hospital.

‘There are some really simple steps people can take to prevent getting ill in the first place: be aware that ‘use by’ dates indicate how long food will remain safe, and then make sure you stick to them; always follow the storage instructions on the label; and make sure your fridge is cold enough – between 0°C and 5°C is ideal.

‘These are the three messages that our new campaign is focusing on and Food Safety Week is a good time to be raising awareness of them."

VP communications thingy: stop sending me e-mails that you or any of your underlings – and I know how many people at Maple Leaf subscribe to bites.ksu.edu and barfblog.com – know was repetition and maybe work on an information strategy so that the genius dieticians in Canadian old-folks homes stop serving unheated cold-cuts to their patients. That’s how 22 people died last year.

Raw egg in hollandaise sickens 20 at upscale retirement home

Australia has had a number of outbreaks involving raw eggs in a variety of dishes. Why any aged care facility, even a so-called upscale one like RSL Anzac Village at Narrabeen would serve dishes with raw eggs to a vulnerable population like senior citizens speaks to the stellar food safety training underpinning their upscale care. Maybe they were trained by the same folks who think it’s OK to serve cold cuts to old folks in Canada – 20 died from listeria in Maple Leaf deli meats last fall.

The source of the outbreak is believed to be a hollandaise sauce that used raw egg, although the NSW Food Authority is still waiting for conclusive test results.

The suspected food poisoning occurred on Friday, January 23, when the temperature reached nearly 32 degrees at the RSL Anzac Village at Narrabeen. The high-quality village provides 750 independent living units as well as places for 500 people in nursing home or hostel level care.

A statement from the home’s management said, "Village management apologises unreservedly to all people affected by this unfortunate incident and continues to work with the public health unit to trace the source.”

It said the village served more than 200,000 meals a year and this was the first known episode of gastric upset relating to food services "in living memory".

The Minister for Primary Industries, Ian Macdonald, issued a warning about the potential health risks from eating food that contained raw or lightly cooked eggs.

He said the Government was launching an education campaign in view of a consumer survey by the Food Authority that showed people did not understand how to safely cook or store eggs.

Harold and Kumar rejoice: A new White Castle’s going up

Kentucky’s Louisville Courier-Journal reports that another well-known White Castle in Louisville is slated for the wrecking ball, but this one will be rebuilt as the largest in the chain.

The company has 16 restaurants in the metropolitan Louisville area, many of which are neighborhood landmarks and destinations for after-hours meals and impromptu drive-through runs.

The Market Street store has become a favorite haunt for celebrities in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, including Kid Rock, who several years ago treated White Castle customers to free food and drinks.

I find Sliders disgusting. But I like Big Macs during road trips.