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Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Hot off the press - Taco Bell removes green onions from its restaurants:

A number of restaurant chains, including Taco Bell, are now joining Chi-Chi's in removing green onions from menu items as a precaution.

Health officials in Pennsylvania said the number of Hepatitis A infections is likely to continue rising through this week, peaking about November 22, 2003. While the Chi-Chi's restaurant has been closed since November 2, the virus can take nearly a month to exhibit its early flu-like symptoms.

OK, so maybe it isn't so hot off the press. Here's the 2006 version:

Taco Bell ordered the removal of green onions from its 5,800 restaurants nationwide Wednesday after tests suggested they might be responsible for the E. coli outbreak that sickened at least three dozen people in three states.

But read on:

Meanwhile, the company that distributes food to the region's Taco Bells said federal investigators planned to test five produce items _ green onions, regular onions, cilantro, tomatoes and lettuce _ from its southern New Jersey warehouse....

On Tuesday, Taco Bell representatives and state and federal health inspectors visited a food distribution center in Burlington, N.J., that supplied the Long Island and New Jersey restaurants patronized by people who were sickened.

Texas-based McLane Co., which owns the distribution center, selected the produce items for federal investigators to test Wednesday, said Bart McKay, a lawyer for the company.

McKay said the federal investigators were to pick up samples of green onions, regular onions, cilantro, tomatoes and lettuce. No meat samples were requested, he said.

"By all appearances, the focus seems to be on one or more produce supplies," McKay said.

And Bart McKay has also appeared in Forbes (emphasis mine):

On Tuesday, Taco Bell representatives and state and federal health officials toured a 192,000-square-foot Burlington, N.J., food distribution center that supplied the Long Island and New Jersey restaurants associated with the outbreak. The center, run by Texas-based McLane Co., distributes food to over 1,100 restaurants, including Taco Bell and other fast-food retailers.

Bart McKay, associate general counsel for McLane, told the Times that the company had joined the investigation into the source of the E. coli outbreak at the request of Taco Bell's parent company, Yum! Brands. "We're beginning with Burlington," he said....

Medical officials in New Jersey and New York were teaming with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to try to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak.

Dr. Patricia Dillon, director of epidemiology and communicable diseases for Suffolk County, Long Island, said health authorities are focusing now on the central food distributor rather than improper handling as the probable source of the outbreak.

"You could not have improper handling occur at so many restaurants," she told the Times.

This raises the question - what about the other 1,000+ restaurants that received food from McLane's Burlington facility? Well, if you go to McLane's press releases page, you can see their latest public statement on the issue:

So, now that Taco Bell has stepped up to the plate and McLane hasn't, what reward has Taco Bell received?

In New York, Irene Abbad stopped at a Taco Bell on Long Island on Tuesday, but she was afraid to eat the food and ordered only a soft drink.

After hearing about the outbreak, she called her son, who she said is a frequent Taco Bell customer. "I said, `Don't eat Taco Bell for a while.'"

Courier News Online had a little more detail about the logic of Irene Abbad:

Krishna Badhi of West Windsor said he was unaware of the E. coli outbreak when he drove up for a late lunch with a co-worker Tuesday afternoon.

"We had no idea about it," he said, adding that he also tried to get lunch at the same location on Monday with no luck.

"I thought it might be some sort of holiday," he said.

In New York, Irene and Dell Abbad of Islip Terrace both went to the Taco Bell in Patchogue on Tuesday but ordered only soft drinks.

"I just got a drink, that's it," Dell Abbad said.

Asked if she was afraid to eat at Taco Bell, Irene Abbad said, "Of course of I am."

"In fact I called my son because my son loves Taco Bell, and I said don't eat Taco Bell for a while."

Now some of you may be wondering whether the Abbads are going to use common sense and refuse to eat at any food facility supplied by McLane. In my case, I'm wondering about a different question: Who ordered the soft drink? Was it Irene Abbad, Dell Abbad, or both of them? We need to get Harvey Levin on the case.

Luckily, we don't have to rely on Harvey Levin. We have Jim Prevor:

Yesterday we mentioned an E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell. Today there was more news.

Some of it was bad news for the produce industry as word leaked out that investigators were focusing on non-meat items as possible culprits in the Taco Bell/E. coli outbreak in New York and New Jersey. The focus was on non-meat products because several of those who have fallen ill report that they are vegetarians.

After talking about McLane, Prevor continues:

Bill Marler of Marler Clark, a law firm specializing in cases involving foodborne illness and who is representing many of the plaintiffs in litigation related to the spinach/E. coli crisis, fingers salsa as a likely cause. He notes that salsa contains cilantro, green onions and tomatoes, all of which have been implicated in previous situations where E. coli was a factor.

Of course others claim salsa can fight foodborne illness.

However, I disagree with the following statement:

Taco Bell seems to be taking a very unusual PR path on this crisis. They haven’t offered to pay any medical bills. They didn’t close down the restaurants until two days after they learned of the first case. You have to search around and click on press releases on the Taco Bell web site to find any reference to the outbreak, and the web site of the parent company, Yum! Brands, has no mention of the problem at all.

We suppose they must have very clever consultants who told them this is really a smart way to handle things.

The Pundit thinks that every time someone in the food business behaves this way, it is bad for everyone as it builds up consumer doubt about how important the consumer is to the industry.

Compared to McLane, Taco Bell is an open book. And look how Irene and/or Dell Abbad have reacted to the open book policy. Makes you think that a Nixonian stonewalling strategy may be in your best interest.


From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

This green onion supplier has marred Taco Bell's sparkling record of providing only the healthiest food to its customers!
The chihuahua is unhappy.
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