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E. coli outbreak has authorities checking Panera Breads in N.J.

The officials stress that they have no confirmation the chain was where eight people contracted the bacteria.

Health authorities in New Jersey are investigating several Panera Bread restaurants and other food outlets in the western part of the state as the possible source of an E. coli contamination that has sickened eight people.

The county and state authorities stress they have no confirmation something served at Panera is the cause, nor even proof the cases are connected. Tests are pending, and the officials are still speaking with the victims about where they ate prior to becoming ill. They indicated the bacteria could have been contracted weeks ago.

Panera has not responded to a request for comment.

Authorities said the contaminations were spread across a four-county area. Local media have reported that all eight of the victims were hospitalized, and that five have been discharged.

The New Jersey counties involved are Warren, Somerset, Hunterdon and Middlesex.

E. coli bacteria can be spread through under-cooked food or transferred directly from one person to another through contact. It causes a variety of symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea. It has been known to be fatal for children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

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