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UPDATE: Taco Bell yanks green onions after E.coli testing

IRVINE Calif. Taco Bell Corp. has directed the chain’s 5,800 domestic units to discard green onions from their kitchens after tests suggested the ingredient could be the source of an E.coli outbreak in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

The company, based here, described the tests as “preliminary and not yet conclusive,” but said it was ridding its operations of green onions, or scallions, as a precaution. Three samples had returned “presumptive positive” results in testing for the deadly form of E.coli, it indicated.

Meanwhile, the outbreak continues to spread. Two more Taco Bells on Long Island, the bedroom community just east of New York City, were voluntarily shut Wednesday afternoon, according to press reports. Twenty-six more contamination cases are being investigated in Nassau County alone, said county executive Tom Suozzi. Nassau and Suffolk Counties constitute most of Long island.

Other reports indicated that instances of E.coli contamination had also been found in the counties of Clinton, Oneida and Otsego. More than 65 people in total have reportedly been afflicted.

Scallions were implicated several years ago in outbreaks of hepatitis A that were eventually traced to Chi-Chi’s and O’Charley’s casual-dining restaurants.

Investigations into the E.coli outbreak linked last week to Taco Bell units in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey have led chain and health officials to a McLane distribution center that supplies 1,100 restaurants, according to media reports. The facility is located in Brunswick Township, N.J. News reports also indicated that health authorities are investigating a produce supplier.

Authorities have also raised the tally of persons in the three states who have been sickened by the deadly form of the bacteria, to 65.

Meanwhile, Taco Bell closed nine units in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, a suburb of Philadelphia, after four patrons said they’d been sickened by E.coli. A fifth person has also been afflicted, health officials said.

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