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Northeast E. coli outbreak now in 5 states

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NEW: As many as 84 people in five states sickened
NEW: At least one lawsuit already filed against Taco Bell
NEW: New Jersey health officials focus on one food distribution warehouse
From Catherine Clifford
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- As many as 84 people in five Northeastern states have been confirmed as having the strain of E. coli bacteria involved in an outbreak believed to be linked to Taco Bell restaurants, officials said Thursday.

State and federal agencies are still trying to pin down the source.

At least one lawsuit relating to the outbreak already has been filed against the fast-food restaurant chain.

E. coli cases -- first reported November 29 in New Jersey, followed by New York and Pennsylvania -- now have appeared in Delaware and Connecticut, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said. Interviews showed that most of the first 58 people who became ill had eaten at Taco Bells.

On Wednesday, Taco Bell said it had ordered the removal of all green onions from its 5,800 outlets nationwide, after three samples tested by an independent laboratory were found to be positive for E. coli.

But now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is testing several ingredients used by Taco Bell. The epidemiology detectives are also conducting more interviews to track down the source of the E. coli strain, said Dave Daigle, spokesman for the Infectious Disease Center of the CDC.

The Food and Drug Administration says at least 35 people have been hospitalized with the same E. coli strain since the outbreak, some in serious condition.

The lawsuit was filed late Wednesday by the family of an 11-year-old Long Island boy, Tyler Vormittag, who they say contracted E. coli after eating at a Taco Bell on November 24 in Riverdale, New York.

"When a restaurant serves food, there is the presumption that it is safe for human consumption," said the family's attorney, Andrew Siben. "Taco bell breached that duty when serving Mr. Vormittag a taco."

He said the damages being sought will depend on the extent of injury to the fifth-grader. The suit was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Suffolk County.

New Jersey health officials have focused attention on a food distribution warehouse in Burlington, New Jersey, and urged all Taco Bell locations that received shipments from there to "discard all current food supplies and clean and sanitize their facilities." Taco Bell would not confirm that the warehouse, operated by McLane Foodservice Inc., was being investigated.


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