To eat green onions or not to eat green onions? With apologies to Hamlet, that has been the question as another E. coli outbreak makes the news. But scallions may not be the culprit, as the first wave of headlines reported.
As of Monday, 64 cases of E. coli associated with the Taco Bell restaurant outbreak have been reported to the CDC. Five states are affected: New Jersey (28 cases), New York (22), Pennsylvania (11), Delaware (2) and South Carolina (1, but the patient ate at a Pennsylvania Taco Bell). Other cases are still under investigation. And while green onions have been blamed for the outbreak, “no specific food has been implicated yet,” the CDC notes.
Taco Bell, however, has voluntarily removed green onions from its U.S. restaurants. Preliminary tests had revealed the possible presence of E. coli O157:H7 in green onion samples, but the results have not been confirmed by government tests. A sample of chopped white onions collected on Dec. 4 from an open bin in a Taco Bell restaurant in Nassau County, NY, tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, but it appears to be a different strain from the one that has caused illness. The FDA is exploring the possibility of other tainted ingredients, including cilantro, cheddar cheese, blended cheese, yellow onions, tomatoes and lettuce, and green onions will undergo additional tests.
Meanwhile, Taco Bell has changed its produce supplier, pulling orders from Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms. The grower defends its practices, noting that “the safety of consumers is our top priority, and we are committed to continued cooperation with all agencies as they try to determine the cause of this tragic situation. Other packs of green onions sold for retail, wholesale and foodservice packages, bunched and iceless, are grown in a different region and are not in question regarding the recent illnesses.”
So, welcome to the brave new world of feeding yourself, where grocery shopping and dining out occasionally feel like a game of Russian roulette. For me, buying locally grown organic produce and fresh artisanal cheese never looked better.