Taco Bell has been named as the source of a Salmonella outbreak that affected individuals in ten states including Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and Michigan, and reportedly sickened nearly 70 people.
The Centers for Disease Control first reported the incident in January, but did not name the Mexican fast-food restaurant chain directly. The website Food Safety News obtained records from the Michigan Department of Community Health that cited Taco Bell as the cause of the infection. The site reports that the “CDC investigators believe the illnesses resulted from an ingredient distributed by Taco Bell that was contaminated before reaching restaurants, although the investigation could not pinpoint a single suspect ingredient.” But, of those infected who reportedly ate at Taco Bell, Food Safety News claims that records show that “94 percent reported eating ground beef, while 90 percent ate lettuce and 77 percent ate cheese.”
Secrecy surrounding the cause of the Salmonella outbreak forced Food Safety News to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the records in Michigan, making the CDC’s behavior look suspect and igniting accusations that Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut’s parent company) received special protection from the agency, possibly because the company has spent nearly $1 million on lobbying efforts, mainly in petitioning the government for the right to allow the use of food stamps in its restaurants.
In a statement released by Taco Bell, the chain claimed, “The CDC has stated the public health is not at any risk and this incident is completely over,” but did not address the reason for withholding information about where the outbreak originated, only stating that, “the problem likely occurred at the supplier level before it was delivered to any restaurant or food outlet.”
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