E. coli reported in New Jersey

New Jersey’s health officials are investigating a half-dozen cases of E. coli that were reported in Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Warren counties.

The state Health Department says the six cases of E. coli may be linked to a restaurant chain but officials declined to identify the suspected source, saying they will not do so unless a link is confirmed.

The process could take longer than a week, involving state agencies as well as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“The Department is in the process of gathering food history data because it can be very difficult to determine where someone got sick,” said Donna Leusner, a spokesperson for the health agency. “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,” said Leusner. “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 said state lab tests will determine if the strains of E Coli match and the CDC will confirm those test results.

Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals. E. coli are a large and diverse group of bacteria.

Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, some can cause diarrhea, while others can make you sick with urinary tract infections, respiratory illness such as pneumonia, and other illnesses.

The state is also investigating whether a common food source 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 spokesperson Peter Haigney said he was asked to direct any inquiries about this subject to the New Jersey Department of Health.

Foodborne illness is a common, costly—yet preventable—public health problem.

CDC estimates that 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated foods or beverages and 3,000 die each year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that foodborne illnesses cost $15.6 billion each year.

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