Federal health officials said this week that at least three New Jersey residents have been sickened in the E. coli outbreak that has infected at least 32 people who ate romaine lettuce.

The illness has stretched across 11 states and has sickened 18 people in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The three New Jersey cases were reported in Bergen, Mercer and Union counties, according to state health officials. So far, no cases have been reported in Middlesex County based on available data. 

“We urge residents to throw away and not consume romaine lettuce of any kind, including salad mixes,” said Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios in an email on Wednesday. “If there is even a small chance that romaine lettuce can make you or your family sick, why take that chance?”

The cases reported in the states and Canada happened between Oct. 8 and Oct. 31, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.

But the centers added cases after Oct. 30 are possible since it can take an average of two to three weeks when a person becomes ill with E. coli and it is reported.

Federal health officials have not been able to identify which specific suppliers are linked to the outbreak and as a result have asked consumers, grocery stores and restaurants to stop selling and eating romaine lettuce until the source is identified.

“While the CDC investigation continues, please exercise caution when choosing what to serve your family,” said Freeholder Shanti Narra, chair of the Middlesex County Public Safety and Health Committee, in an email on Wednesday. "Consumers who have any type of Romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it, even if some of it was eaten previously and no one has gotten sick.”

Earlier this year, an E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce was linked to tainted water in Arizona. That incident resulted in five deaths and 200 people becoming sick.

With this current outbreak there have been no reported deaths, but more than a dozen people have been hospitalized in the United States and Canada.

In an email on Wednesday, the Middlesex County Office of Health Services said it "is encouraging its residents and businesses to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to not eat, serve, or sell romaine lettuce as stated in a November 20, 2018 food safety alert."

The county also offered some food safety tips for people to keep in mind while heading into the holiday season. 

Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often:

  • Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food and before eating.
  • Wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.

Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate:

  • Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from other foods.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the refrigerator.

Cook: To the right temperature:

  • Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • 145°F for fresh ham (raw)
  • 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
  • 165°F for leftovers, casseroles, and stuffing

Chill: Refrigerate promptly:

  • Keep your refrigerator below 40°F.
  • Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw foods on the counter, because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.

 For additional resources on food safety visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/index.html

This story has been updated to include responses from Middlesex County government officials. 

Email: Lang@MonroeNow.com. Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter


Christopher Lang is a freelance correspondent for MonroeNow. Previously he was part of The Record-USA Today Network and served as an editor for a decade at NJMG.

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