Taco Bell linked to 10-state Salmonella outbreak in OSDH report

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Taco Bell has been uncovered as "Restaurant A" in a January Salmonella report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Taco Bell has been indicated in a 2011 Salmonella outbreak, from Oct. 21 to Nov. 18, that resulted in a total of 68 people over 10 states becoming infected with the strain.

Initially, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a report on Jan. 19, 2012, in which the suspected food chain was referred to simply as “Restaurant A.” However, according to Food Safety News (FSN), a report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Accute Disease Service (OSDH) uncovered the mystery. Taco Bell was specifically named in the OSDH report cited by FSN, titled, "Summary of Supplemental Questionnaire Responses Specific to Taco Bell Exposure of Oklahoma Outbreak associated cases Multistate Salmonella Enterititis Outbreak Investigation."

Oklahoma had the second-highest number of illnesses during the 2011 outbreak, with 16. The states/outbreaks reported included Texas (43), Oklahoma (16), Kansas (2), Iowa (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1), and Tennessee (1). Approximately 31 percent of the affected patients were hospitalized, according to the CDC, and no deaths were reported.

Taco Bell is part of Yum! Brands Inc. The Mexican-style fast food chain has 5,600 restaurants in the United States, with approximately 36.8 million customers, FSN reported. On Wednesday, Taco Bell released a statement, Reuters reported, indicating that the investigation into the Salmonella outbreak revealed that some people suffering from Salmonella contamination had eaten at Taco Bell, but some had 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," Taco Bell stated.

This is the third outbreak Taco Bell has been tied to in the last six years, Reuters reported. In 2006, lettuce served by Taco Bell was identified by the CDC as the source of a strain of E. coli O157; that outbreak sickened 71 people. In 2010, Taco Bell was linked by the CDC to two outbreaks of a rare Salmonella strain that sickened at least 155 people over 21 states.

According to the CDC, most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

Each year, the CDC says, approximately 40,000 Salmonella illnesses are reported, but there are likely to be many more, as many go unreported, especially milder cases. There can be long-term consequences following a bout with Salmonalla, the CDC explains, as well. Persons with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of persons with Salmonella develop pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination, called Reiter's syndrome. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis which is difficult to treat. Antibiotic treatment, the CDC adds, does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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