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Entries in Taco Bell (3)

Thursday
Feb022012

Taco Bell Linked to Salmonella Outbreak

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- 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 outed as the "Mexican-style" restaurant chain linked to the dangerous infections.

The outbreak that occurred in October 2011 infected 68 people total, mostly in Texas, and sent more than 20 to the hospital, according to a January report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). No deaths were linked to the outbreak.

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."

But 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."

"We take food quality and safety very seriously," the statement said.

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."

"By the time we posted information about this outbreak, it was over," CDC spokesperson Lola Russell told ABC News. "If it was over, there would have been no public need to disclose it."

She added that this latest case hasn't triggered conversations about changing the policy.

Watch the full report on food safety and secrecy on ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb072011

Mystery Meat: The Norm in Fast Food

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- How much meat is in your Taco Bell taco filling?  How much is in your McDonald's Quarter Pounder or your Burger King Whopper?  And is this meat really meat, or something else?

These questions took center stage in January when a California woman sued Taco Bell, claiming its taco filling is only 35 percent ground beef.  The rest, she alleges in her class action suit, consists of edible padding: binders, extenders, preservatives, additives and other non-meat ingredients.

Taco Bell says not only is its filling 88 percent ground beef, but that this beef is no different from what you'd buy at your local supermarket for use at home.  The company has fought back with a counterattack ad campaign.

Kantha Shelke, chief science officer of Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago food science and nutrition research firm, says it's frankly impossible for a consumer to know how much meat is in a food item at Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King or any other fast food restaurant.  That's because such disclosure is not required.  Even when an item is touted as being "all-beef," it may be only 70 percent meat and not run afoul of regulations.

Non-meat ingredients in meat items include ones that add flavor or promote consistency, and binders.

"American consumers think they're being cheated out of their money when they hear that term," says Shelke.  "But logically speaking, binders are a very natural thing.  They prevent water from coming out during cooking.  When you make meatloaf at home, you use breadcrumbs for the same reason -- to hold the moisture."

As for the meat itself, some of it can be, well, not exactly what you think of when you think of meat.

Bill Marler, a plaintiffs' attorney specializing in food safety lawsuits, says that it's common for up to 10 percent to 12 percent of that juicy burger you're about to pop into your mouth to be "ammoniated beef product" -- scraps and trimmings left over from slaughter that used to be relegated for use in pet food.

They no longer are, thanks to a treatment process that uses ammonium hydroxide to protect meat made from scraps against bacterial contamination, thus rendering it fit -- at least according to regulators -- for human consumption.

The product is produced by Beef Products Inc. of South Dakota, whose website says that if you're eating a hamburger in a "quick-service restaurant" (the food industry's preferred term for fast food), "...chances are you'll be eating product produced by BPI."

Rich Jochum, a corporate administrator for BPI, says that the process "minutely adjusts" the level of ammonium hydroxide occurring naturally in meat, and that it enjoys USDA approval.  Further, ammonium hydroxide has received GRAS ("Generally Regarded As Safe") recognition by the FDA.´╗┐

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan252011

Do We Expect Too Much from Fast Food?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- At Taco Bell, 99 cents gets a customer a beefy five-layer burrito: layers of seasoned ground beef, beans, real cheddar cheese and reduced-fat sour cream wrapped up in a nacho-cheese-sauce-smothered tortilla.

But a California woman is suing the fast-food chain for false advertising, claiming its beefy filling is only 35-percent ground beef.

"We are asking that they stop saying that they are selling beef," a representative from the California law firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, which is representing the woman in a class action, told the New York Daily News.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Ground beef can have seasonings, but no water, phosphates, extenders or binders added." The lawsuit, filed Jan. 19 in a California federal court, claims Taco Bell's "seasoned ground beef" is two-thirds binders, extenders, preservatives, additives and other agents. The lawsuit wants Taco Bell to publicly come clean about the content of its Mexican-inspired products.

But for 99 cents -- and ready in seconds -- who expects Grade-A beef?

"It may be unrealistic to think that you're going to get a high-quality meat product at an inexpensive fast-food joint," said Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. "Ground beef is an expensive ingredient, so it's probably one place they're going to cut corners."

Among the ingredients in Taco Bell's taco meat filling are soybean oil (an anti-dusting agent), silicon dioxide (an anti-caking agent) and the common food additives maltodextrin and soy lecithin.

"In most cases, these additives are not necessarily harmful," said Cimperman. "They're added for shelf stability, texture and flavor."

Nevertheless, the plaintiff has a legitimate "beef," Cimperman said. But she hesitates to say the lawsuit will dissuade Taco Bell devotees.

"People who are interested in eating organic, grass-fed beef aren't eating at Taco Bell," Cimperman said. "I think that if you choose to eat there, it's a conscious decision to eat something less healthy."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐







ABC News Radio