Saturday, February 4, 2012

Salmonella and Taco Bell - CDC to release or not to release

CDC released the final report on a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis which was associated with eating food from a Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, Restaurant Chain A.  This report, issued on January 19, 2011 ( indicated that 68 individuals from 10 different states became ill from October, 2011 through November, 2011.

Much of the controversy now is that CDC or the FDA did not release the name of the restaurant which we now know is Taco Bell.  It is not agencies’ policy to release the name of establishments when it is determined that the release of this information will have no impact on other people becoming ill.  (  Having been to many food safety conferences over the years where CDC and FDA presented case study reports, I have seen that they never state the name of the company involved in the case being presented.

On one side, I can see the value in not releasing this name.  Often, the case is ongoing, so they need cooperation from the establishment.  Additionally, releasing this information can have a huge financial impact on the company.  We assume these investigations are air-tight, but that is absolutely the case.  We just need to look at how tomatoes were wrongly blamed in 2008 when peppers were actually the source. In that salsa outbreak, the tomato industry was devastated. (  In many investigations, the indictment of a food and associated producer is based on a statistical analysis without actual product testing, as was the case with Taco Bell.

On the other side, as a consumer, I want to know which establishments present a likely risk to me and my family.  The fact that an given establishment is involved indicated that they have a insufficient food safety system.  An added concern is the fact that there seems to be no clue as to the actual cause of the Salmonella contamination.  So, to what degree do we look at this company and question whether they have a potential condition under control?  In a statement, ( Taco Bell indicates that it is probably at the suppler level.  Is that giving you any confidence in the safety of their food?

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