The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it has moved closer to identifying the source of illness for the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak. FDA and the state of California, working in conjunction with state health officials in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, have DNA-matched the strain of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria associated with the outbreak with two environmental samples gathered from dairy farms near a lettuce growing area in California’s Central Valley.
The investigation is ongoing, including obtaining additional samples, to determine if and how material from the dairy farms may have contaminated the lettuce growing area. FDA has no indication that any lettuce currently on the market, including iceberg lettuce, is connected with any consumer illnesses. This outbreak is not connected to any previous outbreak.
The outbreak sickened approximately 81 individuals in November and December of 2006. Illnesses were reported in Minnesota (33), Iowa (47), and Wisconsin (1). Twenty-six people were hospitalized, and two suffered hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious complication of E. coli O157:H7 infection that can cause permanent kidney damage and death. No deaths have been associated with the outbreak. No new cases of illness are being reported and the outbreak is now considered over.
Taco John’s is headquartered in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and has franchises in more than 25 states; however, the outbreak was associated only with Taco John’s restaurants located in Iowa and Minnesota.