In the latest food scare to hit the U.S. an outbreak of E. coli has made two people seriously ill and sickened at least 22 others in New Jersey.
Public health officials have traced the outbreak to three Taco Bell restaurants in the area and are also checking on whether an outbreak of 14 cases on Long Island was also connected to the fast-food chain.
According to authorities the people who fell ill in New Jersey had eaten at one of the fast-food restaurants between November 17 and 28.
Five remain in hospital including two in serious or critical condition with hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can permanently damage the kidneys.
Of those infected in New Jersey, 22 including two restaurant employees, tested positive for E. coli and all ate at a Taco Bell in South Plainfield; another sufferer ate at a Taco Bell in Edison and one ate at a Taco Bell in Franklin Township.
The outbreak in Long Island has affected at least 14 people, including 10 who ate at Taco Bell and according to health officials eight restaurants in Suffolk and Nassau Counties were closed as a precaution.
In New Jersey, the South Plainfield restaurant has been closed.
The company is reportedly sanitizing the restaurants and replacing the food ingredients before reopening, and says the health and safety of customers and employees is important to them and they are very concerned; Taco Bell has promised to work closely with health authorities to establish the source of the outbreak.
E. coli (Escherichia coli), is a common and usually harmless bacteria found in the faeces of humans and livestock, but certain strains can cause abdominal cramps, fever, bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, blindness, paralysis, and sometimes death.
Most E. coli outbreaks are associated with undercooked meat but the bacteria can also be found in sprouts or leafy vegetables such as spinach.
A few months ago three people died and more than 200 fell ill from an outbreak that was traced to packaged spinach grown in California.
The E. coli bacteria also can be passed from person to person if they do not thoroughly wash their hands after using the toilet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the dangerous E. coli strain 0157:H7 infects about 73,000 Americans a year and kills 61.
As a rule symptoms appear within three to four days of a person eating contaminated food, but in some cases it can be as long as eight days.
Anyone with symptoms is advised to contact their doctor.
There have been no new cases since November 29.