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Distributor investigated in outbreak

All 11 Taco Bells implicated in an E. coli outbreak in New York and New Jersey used the same food distributor, the restaurant chain said Tuesday as health officials tried to pinpoint the source of the dangerous bacteria that sickened at least three dozen people.

Nine people remained hospitalized in New Jersey and New York, including an 11-year-old boy with kidney damage.

Taco Bell Corp. said it had sanitized its nine closed restaurants and planned to reopen them on Tuesday. Two of the 11 restaurants implicated - both in New Jersey - were inspected and remained open.

Spokesman Rob Poetsch said, "We have no indication what the source is. We're looking into all possibilities."

The distributor, McLane Co. of Texas, said Taco Bell representatives and state and federal health inspectors toured the distribution center in Burlington, N.J., that supplied the eight Long Island, N.Y., restaurants and the three in New Jersey.

New Jersey health officials said their investigation would probably focus on produce because some of the infected people were vegetarians.

Also Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Health Department said it was investigating an E. coli outbreak that sickened four people in suburban Philadelphia to determine if it was linked to the New York and New Jersey outbreak.

Most E. coli infections are associated with undercooked meat, but the bacteria also can be found on sprouts or leafy vegetables. Escherichia coli is a common and ordinarily harmless bacteria, but certain strains can cause abdominal cramps, fever, bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, blindness, paralysis, even death.

Three people died and more than 200 fell ill from an E. coli outbreak this year that was traced to spinach.