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300,000 Bottles Used in New Taco Bell Campaign Recalled

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taco Bell on Friday began a voluntary recall of 300,000 plastic water bottles being sold as promotional items after receiving reports that they posed a risk to small children who could pull out and possibly choke on the small, movable tops.

The recall came just four days after Taco Bell started sales of the neon-colored bottles for 99 cents each as part of a $12-million “tacos to go” advertising promotion featuring professional bicycle racer Greg LeMond. The bottles were being sold at 2,700 Taco Bell stores nationwide.

The recall was launched after Irvine-based Taco Bell and the bottle’s manufacturer, Specialized Bicycle Components of Morgan Hill, informed the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission about the potential hazard.

On Thursday, Taco Bell halted sales of the brightly-colored sports bottle after receiving reports of three incidents in which children pulled off the tops--similar in design to the top on bottle of dish-washing liquid--and attempted to swallow them.

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In one case, Specialized officials said a parent performed the Heimlich maneuver on a child who had started to choke on the bottle top, which was stuck in his windpipe. In another, the bottle top was removed from the child’s mouth before he choked.

Company officials declined to provide other details about the incidents, which occurred at undisclosed locations in the Midwest.

Taco Bell said that it ordered 2.5 million of the bottles for the campaign but that only about 300,000 were sold as of Thursday. Taco Bell spokesman Elliott Bloom said the bottles can be returned to Taco Bell for a full refund.

Specialized, the nation’s largest maker of bicycle water bottles, has produced more than 10 million of the containers over the last decade without reported risk or injury, said company spokesman Ken Brenner.

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He said the company has stopped all production and distribution of the water bottle because of the Taco Bell recall, although it was still being sold through bicycle shops and other speciality retailers.

The bottle has three pieces: the main container; a cap; and a small mouthpiece closure top, called a poppet. The poppet is designed to be pulled with the teeth as a person is riding a bicycle. Bloom said the poppet was designed to come off with a hard pull so that the bottle can be cleaned.

But this feature also poses a potential choking hazard to children, Taco Bell said in a statement. The company said care should be taken not to allow young children to have access to the bottles.

Bloom said company officials worked through the night Thursday to make a presentation to the consumer commission. By law, companies are required to notify the agency in a timely manner when they suspect that a product is hazardous, said commission spokeswoman Anne L. Pavlich.

“We went to the commission as soon as this thing was reported to us,” Bloom said.

Times staff writer John O’Dell contributed to this article.


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