Local Panera Bread locations are being explored as a potential source of infection.
The New Jersey Department of Health (NJ DOH) is currently investigating several cases of Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection in 4 counties—Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex, and Warren—that may potentially be linked with local Panera Bread locations.
Of the 8 individuals who have fallen ill with E. coli—bacteria that are normally found in the intestines of humans and animals alike and are usually harmless but are sometimes known to cause illness—all of them have required hospitalization for their infections. However, the majority of the individuals (5) have been discharged.
“The Department is in the process of gathering food history data from those who became ill,” according to an official statement from NJ DOH. “[We are] still awaiting lab tests to determine if the strain(s) of E. coli bacteria match [—there are many strains].”
A match of strains would suggest that there is a common source of the outbreak. Thus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be performing follow-up tests to confirm if this is the case.
“We’re working with the US Food and Drug Administration district office in New Jersey and our own investigators to trace back sources of food the individuals may have eaten as well as looking at records such as invoices of vouchers of food deliveries made to any of the restaurants that may be a part of the investigation,” the NJ DOH is quoted as saying by Food Safety News.
Although the official statement does not list Panera restaurants specifically as the potential source, a health official from the Warren County Health Department said the chain is under investigation.
“The Warren County Health Department and state Health Department are investigating a cluster of E. coli cases potentially from local Panera Breads,” public health epidemiologist in Warren County Sarah Perramant is quoted as saying on NJ.com. Although the restaurant chain is under investigation, Perramant stressed that it has not been “concretely” identified as the source—it remains to be determined.
Identifying a common source for E. coli infections is particularly challenging because individuals could potentially eat several meals spanning several places before experiencing symptoms and falling ill. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for the food source associated with illness to remain undetermined.
“That’s why we conduct many interviews with sick individuals to get food history data and work with food safety officials to investigate food sources,” said the NJ DOH.
The investigation is ongoing, and the NJ DOH will keep the public updated on any new developments as more information becomes available.
Feature Picture Source: NIAID / flickr / Creative Commons.