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It’s Everywhere!! A Spotlight on the 2018 Salmonella Outbreaks

Posted in Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on December 15, 2018

What Salmonellosis? That is a funny sounding word to describe a pretty nasty illness caused by a really bad germ.  Whether obvious or not, you have certainly come in contact with that big bad germ at some point.  Salmonella is in all kinds of foods we consume every day.  Luckily, safe handling practices and good hygiene keep us from becoming sick. Sadly, all it takes is a small lapse to make us sick.

I would like to take a moment to talk a little about what Salmonella is before delving into where you might see this bug in your kitchen.

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a bacterium that is responsible for about 1.2 million illnesses each year according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  About 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths result every year.  The CDC claims that about 1.1 million of these infections are acquired in the United States and even further breaks it down to 1 million illnesses, 19,000, and 380 deaths linked to a food source.  That is scary.  Almost all Salmonella infections are foodborne.  Makes you think about the internal temperature of that chicken just a little more, now doesn’t it.

People tend to notice symptoms around 12 to 72 hours after infection.  This is what is called an incubation period.  During this time, the bacteria are growing in numbers until they reach a high enough level to begin making you feel sick.  Meanwhile, a battle is raging on between your immune system and those nasty germs.

Typical symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps and lasts somewhere between 4 and 7 days.  Most healthy individuals will recover without treatment, though in some cases the diarrhea may cause severe dehydration that might warrant hospitalization.  In some of these cases, Salmonella infection could spread from the intestines to the blood stream.  From there it can move on to other body sites.  In these cases, Salmonella infection can cause death unless prompt antibiotic treatment is given. Certain groups of the population such as the very young, the very old, and those with a compromised immune system are more likely to develop severe illness.

In most cases, people recover completely from a Salmonella infection, though it might take some time for normal bowel behavior to completely return.  In rare cases, a long-term illness may develop.  Some may develop a type of joint pain called reactive arthritis.  This can last for month or even years and could lead to chronic arthritis.  The CDC notes that antibiotic treatment does not seem to impact the occurrence of reactive arthritis.  Other symptoms that might occur with reactive arthritis include eye irritation and painful urination.

Be especially careful around the key food types where Salmonella in known to linger to avoid the fate of Salmonellosis.  You will be surprised where you might find it.

Risky Salmonella Foods

Some foods carry a higher risk of being contaminated with Salmonella, though any food may carry the germs.  Always practice food safety and good hygiene to protect yourself, and be extra vigilant around the following key foods.


While alfalfa sprouts top the list, just about any sprout is at risk of contamination. Sprouts are grown by densely germinating seeds just until they sprout to a small height.  At this level, the high moisture content not only serves as a good growing ground for the intended sprout, but for potentially harmful microorganisms as well – such as Salmonella.  Over the years I have seen tons of recalls due to outbreaks linked to sprouts.  The latest sprouts originating outbreak took place in January of 2018.  A total of 10 people across 3 states were infected with the same strain of Salmonella Montevideo.  Though many people may have been ill with symptoms not severe enough to seek medical attention that were not counted.  Some patients reported eating raw sprouts on sandwiches served at Illinois and Wisconsin Jimmy John’s restaurants.  Another reported eating raw sprouts purchased at a Minnesota grocery store.


Shellfish such as crab, shrimp, lobster, and oysters often contain foodborne bacteria such as Salmonella.  These shellfish may be contaminated before coming out of their ocean home or become contaminated through the shipping and distribution process.  It is best to assume that all shellfish are contaminated with some kind of harmful bacteria, and cook it appropriately to kill off those illness causing bugs.

Unpasteurized Milk

Unpasteurized (or raw) milk from dairy animals such as cows, sheep, and goats can host all kinds of harmful germs, bacteria, and parasites – including Salmonella.  It isn’t necessarily the milk that is harmful, but the potential contamination that occurs while milking the dairy animals.  The CDC recommends avoiding raw milk and only consuming pasteurized dairy products.


Melons such as cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon are at high risk for Salmonellaand other harmful microorganisms.  Their textured outer skins often hold on to soil, making it difficult to appropriately clean. When a knife travels though the outer rind it can bring that bacteria into the fleshy part of the fruit.  The last major outbreak happened in June 2018 where 77 people across 9 states were infected with Salmonella Adelaide. Most of the ill people indicated consuming pre-cut cantaloupe, watermelon, or a fruit salad mix that contained melon purchased from grocery stores.  The outbreak was eventually linked to Caito Foods, LLC that supplied pre-cut melons to stores. 

Ground Beef

Ground beef is a high-risk food for Salmonella contamination.  This often comes from the slaughter process and contamination at processing.  The last major outbreak occurred earlier this month resulting in approximately 6.5 million pounds of beef products recalled.  A total of 120 people across 22 states were infected with the same strain of Salmonella Newport, resulting in 33 hospitalizations.  Tainted beef was traced back to JBS Tolleson, Inc, a beef production plant out of Tolleson, Arizona.

Fruit Juice

Unpasteurized fruit juices are also high on the list of potentially contaminated food items. The Salmonella originates from the soil the fruit is planted in.  The CDC warns against consuming unpasteurized juices.


While most bacteria are killed during the thermal processing stage of nut production and packaging, they can harbor Salmonella bacteria.  These products are typically unwashed and not something that the consumer washes.  As a result, some harmful bacteria might survive to infect an unknowing consumer.


Eggs are very high on the list for Salmonella contamination.  Salmonella has a strong associating with poultry and fairly prevalent on poultry farms.  Eggs become contaminated when feces and other contaminants penetrate the porous egg shell and can even become contaminated before the hen lays the egg. The last outbreak linked to eggs occurred in August 2018 where 44 people across 11 states were infected with the same strain of Salmonella Enteritidis. As a result, 12 people were hospitalized.  Patient interviews pointed investigators in the direction of eggs served at restaurants. Additional investigations traced the source of the outbreak to Gravel Ridge Farms in Cullman, Alabama. Environmental samples and egg samples tested positive for the outbreak strain and a recall was initiated.

Raw Fruit and Vegetables

Raw fruits and vegetables can be easily contaminated with harmful bacterial like Salmonella.  Contamination occurs at soil or water contamination which is often due to wild animal and bird droppings.  While the inside flesh of the fruit and vegetables may not be infected, germs spread after the fruit or vegetable is cut open or peeled.


Poultry is the most well known of Salmonella sources.  In fact, it is the top food source of Salmonellainfection in the United States.  More people are infected with Salmonella than any other foodborne illness – making poultry the absolute highest risk food.  A poultry linked Salmonella outbreak is currently under investigation.  As of October 17, 2018 a total of 92 people across 29 states have been infected with the same strain of Salmonella Infantis.  This resulted in 21 hospitalizations.  While epidemiologic and laboratory evidence points to raw chicken products, interviews have indicated sick people eating different types and brands of chicken products purchased from many different locations.  The outbreak strain has been found in samples taken from live chickens, raw chicken products, and raw chicken pet food.  No single supplier of raw chicken products or live chickens has been identified.  The investigation is ongoing.  Check with for updates as they become available.

Other Recent Outbreaks

Other foods such as Hy-vee Spring Pasta Salad, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks Cereal, Dried Coconut, Chicken Salad, Kratom, and Frozen Shredded Coconut along with Another Chicken outbreak, Raw Turkey Products, and Shell Eggs have been cited as Salmonella sources in outbreaks just this year.  In 2018!

Salmonella is everywhere!  Don’t let your guard down just because a food item is not on this particular list.  But be smart and vigilant on higher risk food items.  You do not want to find yourself as a participant in the next outbreak investigation.

By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)