A recent inquiry departed from our usual subject matter but we figured it a good idea to try and respond anyway. 'JJ' asked, "What exactly IS salmonella and how afraid of it should me and my family be when going out to eat? I keep seeing where restaurants are getting closed for salmonella and that scares us especially my wife is expecting our second child. Thanks."
With an estimated 1 million cases of salmonella poisoning happening in the United States alone each year, it ranks as the most frequently reported food poisoning illness... and claims the lives of an estimated 380 Americans annually according to CDC reports.
How does one contract salmonella poisoning? (source)
Salmonella lives in the intestinal tracts of animals, including birds, and people. Infection occurs when a person consumes food or drink contaminated with fecal matter containing salmonella.
Many times the foods causing illness related to salmonella come from animal origin such as beef, poultry, milk and eggs. Do keep in mind, though, that ANY food can become contaminated with salmonella by way of cross-contamination (i.e. not washing hands, cooking implements and/or food prep surfaces after handling contaminated foods and then handling other foods such as fruits and vegetables that would get served uncooked).
Detecting salmonella in foods?
Tricky part about salmonella is that it typically does not affect the taste, smell or appearance of food. But, having said that, it will always make sense to give food a quick inspection before preparation because although salmonella may not manifest itself in obvious ways, other foodborne contaminants do leave clues indicating their existence.
Symptoms of salmonella poisoning?
After ingesting contaminated food products symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills may begin to show up anywhere from eight to seventy-two hours later. Symptoms may persist for a period of up to seven days though in most cases do not require medical treatment of a professional nature.
However, if symptoms persist with extremely high fever and/or dehydration becomes an issue, seek medical attention immediately. Usually a round of antibiotics will knock out the offending salmonella.
Special consideration should get shown for cases where children, the elderly, pregnant women and/or people suffering from conditions that weaken their immune system as salmonella may quickly change from a nuisance illness into a potentially life threatening condition.
Obviously no one we know or that you probably know wants to spend a week on the toilet and/or hugging the toilet while afflicted with fever and chills so the following simple practices can greatly reduce one's chances of contracting salmonella poisoning:
- Avoid cross-contamination of foods by not using the same cooking utensils for uncooked or partially cooked foods (especially meats) on other food products. Washing utensils thoroughly between food products can greatly reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
- Clean food preparation surfaces thoroughly, often and especially after handling products more likely to have salmonella on them such as uncooked meats, eggs and/or unpasteurized dairy products.
- Prepare potential sources of salmonella on surfaces that you can easily clean such as cutting boards with smooth surfaces rather than surfaces with porosity (such as wooden cutting boards) or certain marble or granite surfaces.
- This one seems like common sense, but people infected with salmonella really ought not cook or prepare foods for others.
- Consumption of raw, under cooked and/or uncooked meats may increase one's risk of contracting salmonella and other unwanted (unpleasant!) conditions.
- Do not store raw or partially cooked foods with cooked/prepared foods.
- Wash produce thoroughly before use/cooking even if not working with raw meats or unpasteurized dairy products,
- This one also sounds like common sense, but make certain to wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap after using the restroom, handling garbage or waste materials, handling/changing diapers and/or touching animals (salmonella may live on the skin of certain animals).
Safe practices at food packaging/ processing plants?
Here in the United States, and we hope all over the world, food processing facilities must wash down surfaces and equipment with sanitizing and/or disinfecting solutions. As part of that process they must also monitor the amount of active sanitizer/disinfectant in those solutions.