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64 sickened by Taco Bell E. coli; more onions test positive

Story Highlights

• NEW: Official: White onions at New York Taco Bell test positive for E. coli
• Revised tally in last week's outbreak is 64 confirmed cases in five states
• 14 hospitalized in Iowa after eating at a Taco Johns restaurant
• Taco Bell says green onions were the likely source
From David Miller
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Sixty-four cases of E. coli bacteria related to the outbreak that hit several Taco Bell restaurants in the Northeast in the past two weeks have now been confirmed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of those cases includes the first confirmed case in New York City, CDC and New York state health officials say.

Taco Bell officials said their restaurants are now completely safe for consumers.

Although CDC officials said no food source has been confirmed in the outbreak, Taco Bell officials said the chain will no longer serve green onions, thought to be the most likely culprit in the spread of the bacteria.

Meanwhile, white onions at a Taco Bell in Hempstead, New York, tested positive for E. coli Monday, said New York Health Department spokesman Marc Carey.

But the strain was the same as the E. coli involved in the outbreak, he said.

The white onion bag was open and the contamination could have happened on site, Carey said.

"This was, as far as we can tell right now, an isolated incident, " he said.

Escherichia coli bacteria is found in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals. Most E. coli infections are associated with undercooked meat that has come in contact with animal feces.

But the bacteria can also manifest itself on leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce.

Typically the bacteria is harmless, but certain strains can cause abdominal cramps, fever, kidney failure, bloody diarrhea, blindness, paralysis and death.

According to New York City Health Department spokesman Jeff Cowley, a Staten Island woman who became sick after eating at a Taco Bell was hospitalized November 24.

But she wasn't tested for E. coli until the outbreak became widely publicized.

Tests revealed she contracted the same strain of E. coli found in the other cases. The woman has since made a full recovery.

New outbreak

A new outbreak of E. coli -- apparently connected to a different taco chain -- has shown up in Iowa.

Kevin Teale of the Iowa Department of Health said approximately 40 people have reported symptoms consistent with E. coli and 14 people have been hospitalized.

The first illness was reported to the Black Hawk County Health Department on November 28, and the department has not seen any new cases since last week.

The Associated Press reported those people became ill after eating at a Taco John's restaurant in Cedar Falls.

"As a precaution, all food that was being used in the restaurant was taken out of production and replaced with new food," said Taco John's president and CEO, Paul Fisherkeller.

Test results on the suspected cases were expected to be completed Monday.

Taco Bell officials announced the chain will no longer serve green onions at any of its 5,800 restaurants nationwide.

The ingredient was the only one to show positive results for E. coli in an independent test of more than 150 samples of all Taco Bell ingredients from several restaurants in multiple states, according to a Taco Bell statement.

Taco Bell, which is owned by Yum Brands, has said it is confident it has taken all appropriate measures to ensure no more customers will become sick from its food.

Officials said the company has closed, sanitized and restocked restaurants at several franchises and switched produce suppliers in the Northeast.

Taco Bell says an investigation shows green onions were the likely source of the E. coli outbreak linked to the restaurant chain.


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