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On January 19th, the US CDC reported a multi-state outbreak of 68 confirmed cases of Salmonella enteritidis gastroenteritis associated with eating food from “Restaurant A,” which the Investigation Announcement described as a Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain. Forty-three of the confirmed cases were reported by Texas, and 16 by Oklahoma. Outbreak illnesses also were reported by Kansas (2), Iowa (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1), and Tennessee (1).

Ever since the Investigation Announcement was released, CDC has ignored, dodged, and declined to answer repeated requests from the media – including an Open Letter published on eFoodAlert – to identify Restaurant A. In a recent interview with JoNel Aleccia of MSNBC, Dr. Robert Tauxe, CDC’s deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, explained the agency’s policy.

The longstanding policy,” Tauxe told Aleccia, “is we publicly identify a company only when people can use that information to take specific action to protect their health. On the other hand,” he added, “if there’s not an important public health reason to use the name publicly, CDC doesn’t use the name publicly.”

Fortunately, the state of Oklahoma takes a broader view than CDC of the public’s right to know the identity of Restaurant A.

I have just learned, courtesy of the Oklahoma State Department of Health Acute Disease Service, that “Restaurant A” is Taco Bell. Following is the summary I was given of Oklahoma’s participation in the outbreak investigation.

Oklahoma State Department of Health
Acute Disease Service 

Summary of Supplemental Questionnaire Responses Specific to
Taco Bell Exposure of Oklahoma Outbreak-associated Cases
Multistate Salmonella Enteritidis Outbreak Investigation
November 2011 – January 2012 

Summary Demographic information

  • 16 cases in 5 Oklahoma counties
    • Cleveland (10), Bryan (2), Lincoln (2), Pottawatomie (1), and Greer (1)
  • Onset date range: 10/21/2011 – 11/18/2011
    • 1 onset date unknown but believes around Thanksgiving
  • Hospitalizations: 4
  • Gender distribution: 10 (63%) females and 6 (37%) males
  • Age range: 5 to 78 years (median 23 years)

Taco Bell exposure summary of Oklahoma cases from supplemental case-control questionnaire responses

  • Total Oklahoma cases: 16
  • Total interviewed: 12/16 (4 refused or were lost-to-follow-up)
  • Consumed food from Taco Bell: 8/11

CDC  reported that it was unsuccessful in determining the food source for this outbreak; however, the agency took pains to add that ground beef was an unlikely source, due to the restaurant chain’s handling and cooking processes. Patrons of the Taco Bell chain can draw some comfort from CDC’s assessment that its outlets follow appropriate handling and cooking procedures for raw ground beef.

Perhaps now that the Salmonella Enteritidis has hit the fan, CDC will deign to confirm the identity of the mysterious Restaurant A.