After weeks of anonymity as “Restaurant Chain A” in an investigation into a salmonella outbreak that infected dozens of people in ten states, Taco Bell has been identified as the “Mexican-style” restaurant chain linked to the dangerous infections. The salmonella outbreak, which occurred in October 2011, infected 68 people in total, mostly in Texas, and sent more than 20 people to the hospital, according to a January report by the Centers for Disease Control. Although no deaths were linked to the outbreak, Taco Bell may still be on the hook for possible products liability claims made by those who became ill and suffered personal injury as a result of eating its food products.
While the CDC and Food and Drug Administration officials were unable to pinpoint exactly what food product may have caused the outbreak, the report said “data indicat[ed] that contamination likely occurred before the product reached Restaurant Chain A locations.” It was not until Wednesday that Restaurant Chain A was identified by Food Safety News as the fast food favorite Taco Bell, based on data provided by a health official at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. In that state, 16 people had been infected with salmonella.
In a document provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health to ABC News, health officials noted that of the 16 cases, at least half of the victims had eaten at Taco Bell prior to their infections. Taco Bell noted in a statement to ABC News that the CDC had not discovered the definitive source of the outbreak and said the department only “indicated that some people who were ill ate at Taco Bell, while others did not.” Accoridng to the statement made by Taco Bell, “We take food quality and safety very seriously.”
The CDC kept Taco Bell’s name out of their report in accordance with long-standing policy of not necessarily identifying restaurants involved in investigations as long as there is “not a public health threat.” According to ABC News, CDC spokesperson Lola Russell stated, “By the time we posted information about this outbreak, it was over.” She also stated, “If it was over, there would have been no public need to disclose it.” Russell added that this latest case hasn’t triggered conversations about changing the policy.
It is well knows that Taco Bell has had its tussles with food-borne illnesses before. According to the Los Angeles Times, the chain was linked to salmonella outbreaks in 2010 that sickened more than 100 people as well as an E. coli incident in 2006 that left dozens ill. The most recent outbreak comes at a touchy time for the chain, which spent much of last year dealing with the fallout of a quickly dismissed lawsuit that questioned the quality of its seasoned ground beef.
It is definitely fortunate that no lost their life as a result of this potentially deadly outbreak. However, seeing that several people were injured as result of this Salmonella outbreak, Taco Bell may be deemed negligent, and may be found liable for the personal injuries suffered by the victim of this outbreak in products liability cases. As a Georgia Attorney who practices in the areas of personal injury and products liability, it is my desire that all those injured by this unfortunate incident receive all of the help and compensation they deserve.