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For Release:
December 18, 2006

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner
(609) 984-7160

DHSS Updates E. Coli Investigation


The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is investigating 89 cases of illness potentially related to the multi-state outbreak of E. coli 0157 infection associated with Taco Bell restaurants.

Included in the total are 37 cases that meet the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) case definition as being associated with the outbreak.  This includes 26 confirmed cases in Middlesex (19), Somerset (2), Essex (2), Camden (1) and Union (2) counties.  All 26 have strains of E. coli 0157 that match those of other confirmed cases in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and South Carolina.

The other 11 -- all probable cases according to the CDC definition – are from Middlesex (5), Union (2), Camden (1), Hunterdon (1), Somerset (1) and Mercer (1) counties.

The CDC has determined that the multi-state outbreak has ended because there have been no illnesses with onset within the past 5 days among identified cases, including suspect cases.

"The food source of the outbreak has not been determined. However, federal investigators have found raw ingredients consumed at Taco Bell restaurants to be of particular concern,’’ said Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.

Since the beginning of this outbreak, the Department and local health departments have continuously collected data on both ill and well patrons of Taco Bell restaurants.  These data have included information on the foods these persons consumed, including specific food ingredients.

The Department has been sharing its data with the CDC, in addition to conducting its own data analysis.  The Department's analysis has demonstrated that some food ingredients, including lettuce, cheese, and ground beef, were consumed more often among the ill persons than well persons; these findings are consistent with CDC's findings based on combined data from all states with cases associated with this outbreak.   

In addition, federal agencies have collected information on Taco Bell restaurants and their food distribution and preparation characteristics, including data provided by NJDHSS to the CDC.  Evaluation of all the data suggests that shredded lettuce consumed at Taco Bell restaurants in the northeastern United States was the likely source of the outbreak.

A public health investigation is ongoing to describe how this shredded lettuce may have become contaminated, but based on current information, federal and Department health officials believe the shredded lettuce likely became contaminated prior to reaching the Taco Bell restaurants.   

As of Friday’s update, the Department was investigating 86 cases with 33 cases (25 confirmed and 8 probable) that met the CDC case definition associated with the outbreak.

New Jersey’s 37 outbreak-associated cases are linked to Taco Bell restaurants in Camden, Middlesex, Union, Passaic, and Somerset Counties.  The 37 people ranged in age from 4 to 54, and became ill between November 20 and Dec. 6, 2006. The average age is 18.

Forty-six cases are considered suspect under the CDC definition and an additional 6 investigations are in the preliminary stages.

People who develop symptoms of possible E. coli infection should contact their health care provider immediately. Symptoms could include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps or vomiting, but usually not fever.

The Department will provide daily updates of case counts and test results at

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