Crash Course in Salmonella
Foodborne illness is a severe public health issue, responsible for 1 out of every 6 Americans getting sick each year. The most frequently reported cause of foodborne illness is Salmonella infections. Every year approximately 42,000 cases of salmonellosis, an infection caused by Salmonella bacteria, are reported in the United States. Because many mild cases are not diagnosed or reported the actual number of infections may be over 30 times greater.
Salmonella bacteria live in the intestinal tracts of humans, animals, and birds. Salmonella infections in humans usually happen as a result of consuming foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal and are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs. However, any type of food, including fruits and vegetables, may become contaminated with Salmonella.
Salmonella may also be found in the feces of some pets. Humans can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with pets or pet feces. Reptiles, such as turtles, lizards, and snakes, are more likely to harbor Salmonella. Many chicks and young birds also carry Salmonella in their feces. To prevent contamination always follow proper hand-washing procedures after handling any birds or reptiles.
Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some more severe cases patients need to be hospitalized and prompt antibiotic treatment is required. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and can ultimately cause death.
Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is about five times higher than the rate in all other persons.
Salmonella infections can also be life-threatening for:
- pregnant women and their unborn babies
- older adults
- people with weakened immune systems (such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and transplant patients)
4 Easy Steps to Preventing Salmonella Infections
Preventing Salmonella infections requires practicing good food safety habits in our homes, and especially in our kitchens. Cross-contamination of edible foods is the most common way foodborne illnesses are spread in the home. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella and keeping foods at the right temperature prevents bacteria from growing and multiplying.
Practicing the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services guidelines listed below will help keep any home food safe and Salmonella free:
Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets. Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item. Consider using single-use paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
Uncooked meats should be kept separate from produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods. Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood. If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
Thorough cooking kills Salmonella. Avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, or meat. Also avoid consuming raw or unpasteurized milk or other unpasteurized dairy products. Use a clean food thermometer when measuring the internal temperature of meat, poultry, casseroles, and other foods to make sure they have reached a safe minimum internal temperature:
- 145 °F for fish
- 145 °F for raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
- 160 °F for raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal
- 160 °F for egg dishes/casseroles
- 165 °F for poultry. Stuffed poultry is not recommended. Cook stuffing separately to 165 °F.
- Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating.
- Reheat other leftovers thoroughly to at least 165 °F.
Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within 2 hours (1 hour if temperatures are above 90 °F). Freezers should register 0 °F or below and refrigerators 40 °F or below. Thaw food in the refrigerator or in cold water. Foods should not be thawed at room temperature. Foods thawed in cold water must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature immediately after thawing. Marinate foods in the refrigerator. Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
For more information about foodborne diseases, cross-contamination, food safety and contamination prevention "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov or via smartphone at m.askkaren.gov.