updated 12/13/2006 1:02:28 PM ET 2006-12-13T18:02:28

Taco John's International Inc. has dropped a produce supplier amid reports of possible E. coli contamination at three of its restaurants in the Midwest.

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Brian Dixon, vice president of marketing at Taco John's headquarters in Cheyenne, Wyo., said Wednesday that about 40 people have fallen ill in Iowa and another 14 in southern Minnesota.

Dixon said the sickened people reported that they have eaten at one of three Taco John's restaurants, among other places. While tests are still being one, he said nothing so far indicates that the bacteria necessarily came from the firm's restaurants.

Dixon said Taco John's is dropping a produce supply company that has provided produce to about 100 franchises in the Midwest as an "urgent and precautionary measure." He declined to name the produce supplier and said he didn't know how long the supplier has provided fresh vegetables to restaurants in the chain.

"The cases of E. coli have been confirmed in both Cedar Falls, Iowa, and the two locations that have been cited in Minnesota," Dixon said. He said investigators are still looking for a clear source of the bacteria, which can cause cramps, diarrhea and sometimes more serious problems.

According to a company statement, the major exposure time of those who became ill was late November and early December.

The privately held Taco John's chain has 430 restaurants in 26 states, Dixon said. He said the stores are independently owned and get produce and other food through the parent company.

Meanwhile, Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands Inc., ran ads to persuade customers its food is safe in a number of papers in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. An outbreak of the bacteria has sickened 67 people who ate Taco Bell restaurants.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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