Taco Bell Corp. launched a newspaper ad blitz and sent its president on media interviews Tuesday to convince customers that its food was safe -- even as the cause of the E. coli outbreak linked to the fast-food chain remained a mystery.
In an open letter to customers published in USA Today, the New York Times and other newspapers, Taco Bell President Greg Creed said he would support the creation of a coalition of food suppliers, competitors and government and other experts to explore ways to safeguard the food supply chain and public health.
The executive said in interviews that he had assured his daughter, a college freshman in New York, and her friends that Taco Bell food was safe.
"I can assure you, I would not tell my daughter that unless I absolutely believed it," Creed said.
Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch said the safety issue was not limited to the Mexican-style food chain.
"Based on the information we have today ... we believe that this issue is not isolated to Taco Bell and that there is more need to ensure a safe food supply from the farm to the table," he said.
Neither Creed nor Poetsch provided further details about how an industry coalition might work. Representatives of other fast-food chains and produce packers did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Irvine-based Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Yum Brands Inc. of Louisville, Ky., ran ads in papers in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, where an outbreak of the bacteria has sickened 64 people who ate at the chain's restaurants.
The chain's effort to reassure customers was complicated Monday when the Food and Drug Administration said it could not confirm that scallions were the cause of the problem, as previously suspected, and that it was not ruling out any food as a possible culprit.