Romaine lettuce is suspected as a possible source of an E. coli outbreak in the U.S. and Canada.
The State Department of Health is investigating a half-dozen E. coli cases in at least four Central Jersey counties, said DOH spokeswoman Donna Leusner.
The six E. coli cases — which occurred in Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Warren counties — may be linked to a restaurant chain in the state, but that has not yet been determined.
“It is very early in the investigation,” Leusner said. “This is a preliminary investigation of a half-dozen cases in the four counties. Two of the six were from Somerset County with the other four from the other Central Jersey counties.”
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The DOH is in the process of gathering the food history of those who are sick. The department then will submit its findings to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.
The process could take longer than a week.
“The Department is in the process of gathering food history data because it can be very difficult to determine where someone got sick,” Leusner said. “Individuals could have eaten a number of meals in a number of places before getting sick. They could have eaten at several restaurants, at home or eaten food purchased at a supermarket. Sometimes the source of the food that made people sick is never determined. That’s why we conduct many interviews with sick individuals to get food history data.”
Leusner declined to name any particular restaurant chain as the source, and the DOH will not do so unless a link is confirmed.
According to Leusner, as part of the state’s investigation, the DOH traces the food product back and conducts laboratory testing. The department also interviews those who fell ill and contacts any involved restaurants.
“We are working with the FDA and the CDC,” she said. “The state lab is conducting tests to see if the strain of E Coli bacteria (there are many) match. The CDC will then conduct confirmatory tests. As more information becomes available, we will provide that to the public.”
Leusner said there are two parts to the investigation. First, state lab tests are being done to determine if the strains of E Coli match; then the CDC does confirmatory tests. Second, The DOH is investigating to try to determine the common food source that made people sick.
“We’re working with the FDA district office in New Jersey and our own investigators to trace back sources of food the individuals may have eaten as well as vouchers of food deliveries made to any of the restaurants that may be part of the investigation,” Leusner said.
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset and New Brunswick campuses were contacted for comment. RWJ spokesperson Peter Haigney said he was asked to direct any inquiries about this subject to the New Jersey Department of Health.
Staff Writer Cheryl Makin: 732-565-7256; firstname.lastname@example.org
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