Last week, another Salmonella outbreak made the news. You might not have heard about it since it only affected a handful of people in a Colorado town, but now that handful has grown large enough to gain national attention. And we are not just talking about illnesses here. People have been hospitalized because of there severe Salmonella infections.
With every outbreak, whether it’s multi-state wide or a town of thirty thousand, we as consumers need to take notice. The frequency at which these outbreaks happen should cause anyone to take pause. I know it does for me.
Old Town Fort Collins
On the corner of East Boardwalk and JFK Parkway sits the quaint La Luz Mexican Grill. Known for their “mom and pop” atmosphere and salsa bar, this frequented eatery caused quite a stir: what began as six confirmed cases of Salmonella resulting in five being hospitalized has now grown to nineteen – all within a week.
The local Health Department is still trying to determine the cause of the outbreak and has closed the doors of the restaurant in an effort to keep others from getting sick.
The Health Department urges anyone with symptoms of Salmonella poisoning to first seek medical assistance and then contact them. In order to gain a better understanding as to how this outbreak happened, authorities need as much information as possible. In a country where only 1 in 29 cases of Salmonella are reported, the outbreak numbers linked to this outbreak are likely much higher than those cases that have been confirmed.
To date, the cause of the outbreak is unknown, so in order to understand more about Salmonella, I want us to focus on one often overlooked aspect: prevention.
What is Salmonella?
In order to prevent getting sick, we need to understand what we are up against. Let’s go through a quick refresher course first before we get into how to lower our chances of contracting Salmonella.
Salmonella is a bacterium. According to the CDC, “Salmonella affects about 1.2 million Americans every year, leading to 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths.” It still amazes me how something so small can wreak havoc on such a grand scale.
Signs and symptoms can mimic other intestinal issues so seeking professional medical help is a must:
- Stomach cramps
- Bloody stools
- Muscle and joint pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of most living organisms, and mainly in animals of whom the bacteria does not make them sick. Almost all of Salmonella infections are caused by ingesting feces through eating and drinking contaminated food and beverages. There are other ways to contract Salmonella as well but not as prevalent: like handling certain animals (like pet turtles and baby chicks) and not washing your hands often while handling food.
It is important to note that most cases of Salmonella infection will clear up on its own. However, infants, the elderly, and those with lowered immune systems need to be cleared by a doctor to ensure the infection does not worsen. In an outbreak such as these one, where we are seeing a high number of hospitalizations, urgent medical attention is recommended.
Prevention: Your First Line of Defense
Much is said about signs and symptoms of Salmonella infection. We hear about outbreaks but this does not address the more crucial step in keeping safe: prevention.
The CDC has made a list of tips to remember in order to prevent contracting Salmonella. These practices should become habit as we try to understand how these outbreaks happen.
- Cook poultry, beef, and eggs THOROUGHLY. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs or raw milk.
- When eating at a restaurant, if your meal appears undercooked, do not hesitate to send it back.
- Wash hands, surfaces, and utensils when preparing meals.
- Pay special attention if cooking meals for infants or the elderly.
- Avoid contact of any kind between reptiles and infants.
- Never handle raw meat then an infant without proper hand washing.
- Breast milk is the safest for infants.
As the proud owner of three snakes and a Bearded Dragon, I am constantly aware of the dangers when handling my reptiles. Bearded Dragons and other types of lizards carry Salmonella in their saliva, and it does not take a bite for those bacteria to transfer. I have my own set of rules, but they can apply to everyone.
- Children should not handle reptiles.
- Wash hands after handling each reptile – no exceptions.
- Wash dishes, tongs, food, and waste removal utensils after each use.
- Never handle reptiles while eating.
Washing Hands is Underrated
In order to prevent the spread of any type of bacteria it is important to keep our hands clean. I do not mean to insult anyone’s intelligence here but maybe a quick reminder of how to wash our hands is needed. The leader in information gives us this list:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together paying attention to the backs and fingers.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
For me, the decision to not eat out is becoming easier to make. We at MakeFoodSafe.com are in no way trying to scare anyone. Quite the contrary. We believe that information is power, and consumers deserve transparency when it comes to making decisions on what to eat and not eat. Information is key to a healthy life for you and your family. There are safeguards in place that should allow consumers to eat wherever they desire without the fear of sickness. This does not always happen though, and this is why we bring our food safety blog to you. By staying informed and understanding what to look for will go a long way to keeping safe.
As more information about this outbreak is made available to the public, MakeFoodSafe.com will get that information to you. Remember food safety is paramount to a healthy life.