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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Uh Oh! Some Of The Customers Sickened At Taco Bell Were Vegetarians

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 6, 2006

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.

McLane Company is the distributor that handles distribution to Taco Bells in New Jersey, New York City and its suburbs, including Long Island. As a result investigators were touring its facility in Burlington, New Jersey as part of their track-back efforts.

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.

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.

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