Nearly 40 people, some of whom are seriously ill, were struck by E. Coli food poisoning last month after eating in Taco Bell restaurants in New York and New Jersey.

Health Officials from the two states and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) who have been investigating the outbreak together with representatives from Taco Bell say the threat has subsided but the actual food that was contaminated has not been identified.

Many of the people who fell ill are teenagers. Two younger children, a boy of 10 and a girl of 5, are more seriously infected – they both have hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can lead to permanent kidney damage.

A small number of Taco Bell employees tested positive for E. Coli but did not get sick.

There are many strains of Escherichia coli (E. Coli), many of which are harmless and usually found in human feces and cattle manure. However some strains are very harmful, even fatal, and if ingested cause a range of symptoms from stomach pains, high temperature, diarrhea, to paralysis, kidney failure and loss of sight. Sources of infection tend to be undercooked meat, but sometimes the bacteria occurs on fresh leafy vegetables like spinach. The outbreak in September this year that affected 199 people across the US was said to have been caused by contaminated fresh spinach.

Help to protect yourself against E. Coli infection:

– Cook all meat products thoroughly.
– If you are served hot food that is uncooked, send it back.
– Observe good kitchen hygiene, keep raw meat away from other food and wash hands frequently.
– Drink only pasteurized milk and juices.
– If you are going to eat raw vegetables or fruit, wash them well under running water.
– Don’t swallow pool water and don’t drink water from lakes and rivers.

Click here for more information on how to avoid E. Coli infection (CDC).

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today