Bacteria sometimes associated with Chinese restaurants is the culprit behind an outbreak among more than 150 patrons of Mighty Taco restaurants in New York.
State health officials said Monday evening they had isolated Bacillus cereus in samples of refried beans collected from Mighty Taco locations as well as in lab samples submitted by sick people. Owners of the 43-year-old regional fast food chain took to Facebook to explain the situation, stating they did not want to be misquoted.
“The Wadsworth Center, the public health laboratory of the New York State Department of Health, has identified Bacillus cereus in patient clinical specimens, as well as from refried beans collected from Mighty Taco restaurants, as part of an investigation into gastrointestinal illness among several patrons of certain Mighty Taco restaurants,” the Mighty Taco owners said in their Facebook post.
“We are relieved, yet troubled. While this finding indicates no fault on the part of Mighty Taco the NYSDOH statement continued with: ‘The investigation of this outbreak is continuing, and all laboratory tests are not yet complete. The United States Food and Drug Administration is investigating the source/supplier of the refried beans. There have been no recent reports of gastrointestinal illness among patrons of Mighty Taco.’ ”
None of the government agencies investigating the outbreak — from the county level to the federal level — had posted details about the specific bacteria having been identified as of Monday evening.
The bacteria Bacillus cereus produces toxins that can cause two different types of food poisoning in humans, according to foodsafety.gov. One type of illness is characterized by diarrhea and the other, called emetic toxin, by nausea and vomiting. In general, neither are considered life-threatening and both usually run their course in 24 hours.
Some people refer to the illnesses as fried rice syndrome because Bacillus cereus is frequently found in fried rice that is held too long at room temperature. Under those conditions, as well as in refried beans, the bacteria can double its numbers in 20 minutes or less.
In the past week the health departments in Erie and Niagara Counties reported 142 and 18 cases, respectively, of suspected foodborne illnesses among patrons of Mighty Taco restaurants. The people became ill between Sept. 30 and Oct. 6. Symptoms included nausea and vomiting, which can begin 30 minutes to six hours after consuming food contaminated with Bacillus cereus.
On Oct. 6 Mighty Taco removed refried beans from all of its restaurants because outbreak investigators had identified them as a possible common denominator among the victims. On Oct. 13 Mighty Taco identified the supplier of the refried beans as Pellegrino Food Products Co. Inc. of Warren, PA.
“The refried beans are a proprietary product made exclusively for Mighty Taco and supplied only to Mighty Taco,” the fast food chain reported Oct. 13. “The producer, Pellegrino Food Products Co. Inc. is an approved FDA and USDA facility.
“Mighty Taco remains in constant communication with the producer. We have directed Pellegrino Food Products to ensure that ingredients used in future batches of our refried beans will not be sourced from the same lot numbers as those ingredients used in the suspect batch.”
For additional details on the outbreak, please see: “New cases slow as Mighty Taco outbreak hits 160 illnesses“
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