TRENTON, NJ — Chopped romaine lettuce grown in Arizona is likely the source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least seven New Jersey residents, including one in Monmouth County, according to federal and state health officials.
No specific grower, supplier, distributor or brand has been blamed for the outbreak, which has affected 35 people in 11 states, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In a statement today, April 13, the N.J. Department of Health (DOH) said there are four confirmed cases in Hunterdon County, and one each in Monmouth, Sussex and Somerset counties. As additional testing is completed, more cases may be added, it said.
DOH added it continues to work with its local health partners to identify, interview and obtain lab specimens from New Jersey residents, who may have become ill from this contaminated food.
The latest cases do not appear to be linked to earlier reports from Warren County health officials that an outbreak there may have been linked to a restaurant chain.
State health officials advise consumers not to eat packaged chopped romaine lettuce or salad mixes containing romaine lettuce, and to discard any remaining lettuce from the package even if it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. Discard any lettuce if unsure of whether it is romaine.
Also, before purchasing romaine lettuce at a grocery store or eating it at a restaurant, consumers should confirm with the store or restaurant that the romaine lettuce did not come from the Yuma, Ariz., growing region.
“Individuals with this infection usually get better within about five to seven days; however some illnesses can be serious or even life-threatening,” said state Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal, M.D. “Anyone experiencing symptoms of this illness should see a health care provider.”
The symptoms of E. coli infection vary. Some individuals may have mild to severe diarrhea, which may contain blood. Abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting may occur. Usually there is little or no fever present. People are encouraged to contact their health care provider if they have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days or is accompanied by high fever, blood in the stool, or so much vomiting that they cannot keep liquids down and they pass very little urine.
In addition, about 5 to 10 percent of people who are diagnosed with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS develops about seven days after symptoms first appear, when diarrhea is improving. Clues that someone is developing HUS include decreased frequency of urination, feeling extremely tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. Anyone who develop these symptoms should seek out medical care immediately.
The CDC also advises that all restaurants and retailers ask their suppliers about the source of their romaine lettuce and refrain from selling or servicing any that was grown in Yuma..
The CDC and DOH will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.