(March 23) Boskovich Farms Inc. filed a lawsuit against Irvine-based Taco Bell, alleging the fast food company continued to link an E. coli outbreak to its green onions, despite the fact that the cause of the outbreak was ultimately attributed to shredded lettuce.

“Taco Bell engaged in an irresponsible and intentional crusade to save its own brand at the expense of an innocent supplier,” said Thomas Girardi, an attorney for Boskovich, in a cbs.com story.

Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich, said in early March that Taco Bell pulled its green onions from all 5,800 stores nationwide, even though Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich was quickly cleared of any connection to the outbreak. The damage had already been done to the company’s reputation as the national supplier of green onions, Widerburg said.

According to the cbs.com report, the lawsuit alleges Taco Bell officials most likely knew by Dec. 11 that the green onions were not to blame for the outbreak. Taco Bell posted a press release on its Web site Dec. 13 that stated lettuce was the probable cause. Taco Bell, Irvine, Calif., is a division of Yum! Brands Inc.

According to an open letter from Taco Bell’s president, Greg Creed, “ … all Taco Bell ingredients have come back negative for E. coli ... with the possible exception of green onions, which we removed from all 5,800 restaurants on December 6.”

Green onions are no longer on Taco Bell’s menu, the cbs.com story said, but shredded lettuce remains in about 70% of Taco Bells food selections.

Taco Bell said in a March 21 statement that it acted responsibly and was only trying to keep the public informed of developments.

“We believed green onions may have been the source based on the presumptive positive testing, so we immediately removed them from our products to put public safety first. We later learned they were not the source of the E. coli outbreak,” the statement said.

Taco Bell has reported the outbreak cost it $20 million in operating profit.