PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Federal health officials are continuing to investigate the cause of the E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce. This comes as Americans are getting ready for the big Thanksgiving meal.
There have been more food illness outbreak this year than ever before. Last week, a renewed warning about salmonella and raw turkeys was issued and now romaine contaminated with E. coli. However, doctors say with a few precautions Americans should be able to have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving.
Store shelves were quickly emptied of all kinds of romaine lettuce following the sweeping warning from federal health officials about an E. coli outbreak linked to the popular lettuce.
“The particular strain of E. coli that in romaine lettuce tends to be more dangerous,” explains Dr. Daniel Mueller of Temple University Hospital.
The CDC has identified 32 cases of E. coli linked to contaminated romaine in 11 states. There are 3 cases in New Jersey in Bergen, Mercer, and Union counties.
Those sickened in New Jersey were between the ages of 21 and 70. One person was hospitalized and has been released.
“The symptoms that you would experience if you were affected by this strain of E. coli, you would get sick three to four days after you’ve eaten it. Most people have cramping, belly pain, have diarrhea,” adds Dr. Mueller.
Dr. Mueller, an infectious disease specialist at Temple University Hospital, says those most at risk are the elderly, young children and people who are immune compromised.
“How dangerous is E. coli for most people? For most people, it’s not dangerous at all many of us have E. coli in our intestines right now. It’s healthy and helping us digest food,” the expert adds.
Because E. coli can’t be removed through rinsing, everyone is advised to avoid all romaine until the source of the contamination can be identified. It can also live in refrigerated spaces and countertops, which should be cleaned.
People should also clean up after handling the raw turkey. There’s another food safety alert about turkey potentially infected with salmonella bacteria. That bacteria is killed when the turkey is cooked to an internal temperature of 165°.
With the icy outbreak, it can sometimes take eight days for symptoms to show up. Dr. Miller says that’s because the bacteria actually takes root and grows inside the intestine. But again, severe cases are rare and it’s usually mild.