Food poisoning with Yersinia is caused by one species of this bacteria – Yersinia enterocolitica. There are many different species of Yersinia, including Yersinia pestis which causes plague. While Y. enterocolitica and Y. pestis are related, there is no danger that food poisoning with Yersinia can develop into the plague. Food poisoning with Yersinia is not very common in the United States. It is estimated that for every 100,000 people, there is one confirmed case of Yersinia food poisoning every year.
Yersinia food poisoning looks like most of the other food-borne illnesses. Signs of Yersinia food poisoning include fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea (often bloody). Adults may only show fever and abdominal cramps; this can be confused with appendicitis. The signs usually start to show between 4-7 days after being exposed to the bacteria and can last for up to 3 weeks (sometimes even longer). Most of the time, the resolve on their own with plenty of rest and fluids. Because most people with Yersinia food poisoning do not need to get medical attention, there are likely many cases that are not confirmed or reported.
As with other kinds of food poisoning, young children, older adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system are at the highest risk for becoming infected with Yersinia. Most people will fully recover with no problems. Some people may develop joint pain or a rash after infection with Yersinia. These signs usually begin about 1 month after the initial infection. The joint pain and rash usually resolve over 1-6 months.
There are some things you can do at home to reduce your family’s risk of becoming sick from Yersinia.
- Practice good personal hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, and before preparing food.
- Avoid drinking raw milk or eating other unpasteurized dairy products.
- Use a food thermometer to know when meats are fully cooked.
- Cook pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, then let rest for 3 minutes. Ground pork (like sausage) should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If you are preparing chitterlings (pig intestines), be sure to carefully wash your hands (with soap and warm water, for at least 20 seconds) and clean under your fingernails. Do not come into contact with young children while preparing chitterlings, until after you have thoroughly washed your hands.
- Perishable foods should not be kept at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
Remember, signs of Yersinia food poisoning don’t start to develop until up to one week after the contaminated food was eaten. It might be difficult to pinpoint exactly what was contaminated with Yersinia to make you sick. Call a doctor if anyone in your family has diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, vomiting, or any other signs that you think might be food poisoning.