Salmonella is the most common cause of food-borne illness. It causes 1.2 million cases of food poisoning in the United States every year! Food poisoning from Salmonella usually causes fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. These signs usually don’t start until at least 12 hours, and sometimes as long as 72 hours, after you’ve eaten the bad bacteria.
Image adapted from FightBAC.org.
Doctors estimate that for every 1 case of confirmed Salmonella food poisoning, there are at least 30 additional cases. Most of the hospitalized cases are children under 5 years old. As with any illness, young children, older adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system are more likely to get sick.
Most of the time, Salmonella food poisoning has relatively mild symptoms, lasts less than a week, and can be managed with a lot of rest and fluids at home without a visit to the doctor. Sometimes, the diarrhea can be so bad that people need to be hospitalized to be sure they are getting enough fluids and electrolytes to make up for what they are losing. These are the cases that are confirmed and reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So what can you do to prevent Salmonella food poisoning? It actually isn’t that difficult. By following a few food safety tips at home, you can help keep your family healthy.
Most poultry does carry Salmonella on the surface. Contrary to popular belief, rinsing (or washing) poultry before cooking it does not remove any bacteria. In fact, this practice just might spread bacteria around your kitchen! Proper storage, handling, and cooking will help to prevent any spread of bacteria, and will kill any bacteria that are present.
Eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella. Eggs you buy in the grocery store have been washed before they were shipped to the store, so the risk of Salmonella food poisoning from eating eggs is low, but there is still a small risk. To reduce the risk even further, only eat fully cooked eggs (with whites and yolks that are not runny).
Salmonella can be found in raw milk or other unpasteurized dairy products. It is important to only purchase and eat pasteurized milk and dairy products to try to avoid the risk of Salmonella food poisoning from these types of foods.
Salmonella can also be found on produce. This is why it is important to wash all your produce before you prepare or eat it. Even fruits and veggies that you will be peeling should be washed. If there are bacteria on the surface of the fruit and you don’t wash it before cutting into it, you can drag the bacteria into the fruit as you cut into it. This contaminates the part of the fruit that you will eat with bacteria that could make you sick. Fruits or vegetables with rough or grooved skins can difficult to wash. Try this suggestion from The Produce Mom to get your fruits and veggies clean before you eat them.
Farmers and food processors do everything they can to try to reduce the risk of Salmonella contamination on the food they sell. Modern poultry barns are designed to keep the birds healthy and processing plants have extensive cleaning protocols that help to reduce the risk of Salmonella contamination on poultry. Eggs are washed to remove any surface contamination. Milk is pasteurized to kill most of the bacteria present. Produce is washed before it is shipped to the grocery store to reduce bacterial contamination.
Even with all these procedures in place, you still have some responsibilities in your own kitchen. Remember to always:
- Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food.
- Keep all raw poultry separate from produce.
- Wash all produce before preparing it (but not poultry).
- Use separate cutting boards for produce and raw poultry.
- Cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Perishable foods should not be kept at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
Remember, the symptoms of food poisoning don’t usually occur right away. The cause of the food poisoning could have been eaten anywhere from 12-72 hours ago, not just the last thing they ate. Call a doctor if anyone in your family has abdominal cramps, diarrhea, or a fever that you think might be related to food poisoning.