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UPDATE: Danger’s past, Taco Bell stresses

IRVINE Calif. Taco Bell Corp. said it was informed Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control that the E. coli outbreak linked to at least 90 stores in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware is officially over.

The clean bill of health comes despite a lack of proof that the widespread infection was indeed caused by contaminated lettuce, as CDC officials say they suspect after a statistical analysis of the situation. Lettuce has been cited as the culprit for a separate outbreak, involving three branches of the 430-unit Taco John’s quick-service chain, but it is unclear if health officials have reached that conclusion on the basis of testing or on analysis.

In disclosing the alert from the CDC, Taco Bell repeated its earlier announcement that the chain would like to lead a coalition of competitors, regulators and suppliers in setting standards for safeguarding the restaurant supply chain. The National Restaurant Association announced several weeks ago, at the height of an earlier spinach-based E. coli contamination, that it had formed a task force to forge such standards for fresh produce.

Seventy-one Taco Bell customers were confirmed to have gotten sick after eating in one of the 5,800-unit chain’s stores. News reports said 460 people in total have reported symptoms of an E. coli contamination in the four states of the outbreak.

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