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Mexican Chain Less a Mystery in Nationwide Outbreak

The field is narrowing in the search for the mysterious “Restaurant Chain A,” implicated by public health officials as the source of a Salmonella outbreak that sickened 68 people in 10 states in October and November last year.

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Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the outbreak two weeks ago, no federal or state agency yet has revealed the name of the restaurant chain (although, one state epidemiologist indicated that they may announce the restaurant’s name over CDC and FDA objections later this week) which the CDC’s report describes only as a “Mexican-style fast food chain restaurant.” 

Food Safety News has found that six fast food “Mexican-style” restaurant chains – Taco Bell, Chipotle, Qdoba, Del Taco, Taco John’s and Taco Del Mar – have locations in at least 7 of the 10 states reporting victims tied to the outbreak. Three chains – Chipotle, Qdoba and Taco Bell – have locations in all 10 states.

Because the CDC lists outbreak victims by the state in which their illnesses were reported, it is possible that some of the victims ate contaminated food in one state and fell ill in another state — meaning “Restaurant Chain A” does not necessarily have a franchise in each state that reported an outbreak-related case of salmonellosis.

Food Safety News attempted to contact representatives from each of the six restaurant chains. Thus far, only representatives from Qdoba and Chipotle have stated their chains were not involved in the outbreak.

“There is no connection to Chipotle and we have not been contacted by CDC or any other health officials regarding this incident,” said a representative for Chipotle in an emailed statement to Food Safety News Monday. 

“No, we have not been linked by the CDC to any Salmonella outbreaks at any of our locations,” Lauren Preston of Qdoba told Food Safety News Monday. 

Taco Bell, Del Taco, Taco John’s and Taco Del Mar did not return any of Food Safety News’s requests for comment, despite repeated attempts. 

Last week, Food Safety News called the health departments in each of 10 states involved in the outbreak, and the CDC and FDA, and none of these public agencies would provide the name of the restaurant. The list of states where Salmonella enteriditis illnesses were reported is as follows:

Texas (43), Oklahoma (16), Kansas (2) Iowa (2), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1) and Tennessee (1). 

Since then, Food Safety News has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to each state health department, as well as to the CDC and FDA, asking for the name of the restaurant and the locations of the three franchises linked to more than one illness. As of late Monday evening, none of those requests had been returned.

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 James Andrews contributed reporting for this article.


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