Packaged carrots and lettuce blamed for epidemic of food poisoning

Packaged carrots and lettuce are being blamed for a painful epidemic of food poisoning sweeping through New Zealand.

Nationwide, more than 100 people have been reported as suffering from symptoms mimicking appendicitis, including from the Bay of Plenty.

Toi Te Ora has recorded five people from the Bay of Plenty suffering from the stomach bug, caused by the bacteria yersinia pseudotuberculosis.

The bacteria causes painful stomach cramps with diarrhoea resulting on rare occasions and can be extremely unpleasant for the person involved.

Chief medical officer of health Phil Shoemack said Toi Te Ora recorded four cases in the Lakes district and one from the coastal Bay.

"This is an unusual cause of food poisoning. That's why it sticks out -- to have more than 100 cases around the country within two weeks is most unusual," he said.

"It appears to be related to consumption around carrots and packaged lettuces but we haven't managed to track an actual suspect yet."

Dr Shoemack said Toi Te Ora was working collaboratively with Wellington health officials in finding the exact cause behind the outbreak but there was still a lot of information unknown.

"We've spoken to each of the cases about what food they consumed in the days prior to getting ill and it appears the most likely risk factors are the carrots and lettuces which are pre-packaged.

"It appears loose fruit and vegetables are not involved.

"It's very much a day by day investigation and hopefully we are getting closer to nailing what it is."

Dr Shoemack said the issue was likely to be a batch problem, and if so it should dissipate soon.

For now, he reminded people to take extra care with personal hygiene when preparing and consuming food. Plus washing any raw fruit and vegetables thoroughly.

If anyone finds themselves suffering from similar symptoms, Dr Shoemack recommended they contact their GP straight away.

The first symptoms of yersinia pseudotuberculosis include:

* abdominal pain (often on the lower right), which may mimic appendicitis

* fever

* sometimes diarrhoea.

About 1-3 weeks later, you may get a rash and joint pain. The joint pain can last up to six months.

In rare cases Yersinia pseudotuberculosis infection can lead to sepsis (infection in the blood). This is more common in people with weakened immune systems.

See your doctor, or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice if you think you might have Yersinia pseudotuberculosis. There's a laboratory test which can check for the disease.

By Kiri Gillespie of the Bay of Plenty Times

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