Salmonella is one of the most common forms of food poisoning. Along with Campylobacter and Norovirus, Salmonella accounts for the majority of reported foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States. Since someone can become ill by ingesting contaminated food or by touching domesticated animals (such as chickens, reptiles, turtles, or even guinea pigs), it is a concerning pathogen.
Salmonella Fast Facts
- There are over 2,500 types of Salmonella.
- Typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever, and other illnesses are all types of Salmonella
- There is currently no vaccination for Salmonella infections; however, scientists are working to find one.
- The CDC estimates that Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year.
- The CDC reports that food is the source for about 1 million of Salmonella infections each year.
- Children and the elderly are at the highest risk for Salmonella infections and complications of Salmonella infections.
- Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of animals, especially reptiles. These types of bacteria do not make animals sick, but could make humans sick.
- Salmonella cannot be killed by freezing. Only heat will adequately kill Salmonella bacteria.
How Do You Get Sick with Salmonella?
Humans can become ill with a Salmonella infection through exposure to contaminated food or water, but also through touching or petting common domesticated animals. In most cases, Salmonella infections occur through the lack of handwashing or not cooking food to its optimum cooking temperatures.
Salmonella food poisoning is typically linked to several different food sources, such as:
- Unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices
- Raw Milk
- Dairy Products
- Undercooked Meats
But Salmonella infections can also occur from non-food sources, such as:
- Chickens and chicks
- Other Birds
- Pet food and treats
- Domesticated rodents
Salmonella infections can also occur through cross contamination. Cross contamination can occur through a variety of ways, including through the sharing of the same cutting boards and utensils of raw meat and ready-to-eat products, through human hands, by juice splatter onto food preparation surfaces from rinsing raw meats, and even by not separating raw meats from ready-to-eat foods in the refrigerator.
How Does Food Become Contaminated with Salmonella?
Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines and on the bodies of several different animals, including poultry. As these bacteria typically do not make animals sick, it is difficult to know which animals are infected with the bacteria and which ones are not. From a food perspective, here are some ways food can become contaminated with Salmonella:
Raw Meats and Raw Milk
As Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of animals, feces or fecal matter may contaminate raw meat during the butchering or milking process. Also, as Salmonella may be on the skin of these animals, the bacteria can also transfer from the skin to the meat during this time.
Seafood could become contaminated with Salmonella if they have been grown in or washed with contaminated water.
Many believe the egg’s shell is a barrier to prevent contamination of the egg within. However, this could not be further from the truth. Not only could the shell of the egg contain Salmonella bacteria from cross-contamination with fecal matter, but also infected chickens produce infected eggs before the shell is even formed. This means that the Salmonella bacteria may already be present within the egg’s shell.
As with seafood, produce can become contaminated with Salmonella through using contaminated water during the crop’s growth cycle. Salmonella contamination can also occur through fecal matter from animals in the fields or through cross-contamination in the kitchen.
In a relatively new finding by the FDA, spices can also be contaminated with Salmonella. This may occur through the lack of sanitary conditions in the processing of the spices as well as inadequate handwashing.
What Are the Symptoms of Salmonella Infection?
Salmonella has a relatively quick period in which an exposed person begins to show signs and symptoms of the infection. This period can be about 6 hours and up to 3 days.
The symptoms of Salmonella are the typical symptoms that someone would easily assume are food poisoning. These include:
- Abdominal cramps
There can be the expression of additional symptoms in more severe cases. In cases such as these, bloody diarrhea, headache, chills, and body aches may also be experienced.
The majority of healthy adults will recover from the infection anywhere from 4 to 7 days. Those who are at a higher risk of severe infections, including the very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems (like organ transplant patients or those with cancer), can experience the infection for a longer period of time.
In many cases, including in healthy adults, it may take the body several months to return to normal bowel movements.
How Are Salmonella Infections Treated?
In many cases, Salmonella infections can be treated through supportive care, such as rest and hydration. In some instances, antibiotics may also be used for treatment.
In more severe cases or for someone in the high-risk group, a physician may order antibiotics be used and medical monitoring. Medical attention in these instances is highly recommended, especially as Salmonella bacteria have become resistant to some antibiotics. Proper medical diagnosis and evaluation are crucial to prevent further complications.
Are There Complications to Salmonella Infections?
In some cases, those with Salmonella infections can develop complications.
Like other foodborne pathogens (Listeria and E. coli included), Salmonella could become invasive and spread to the bloodstream causing blood infection. This infection can lead to sepsis and other concerning medical issues.
Invasive Salmonella can also infect tissues throughout the body, including:
- The tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis);
- The lining of the heart or valves (endocarditis);
- The bones or bone marrow (osteomyelitis); and
- The lining of blood vessels, especially if the infected person has previously had a vascular graft.
Also, in some cases, Salmonella infection may also cause temporary or permeant reactive arthritis in an infected person. Symptoms of reactive arthritis, including inflammation of joints, eyes, reproductive organs, or urinary organs, usually show within 18 days of infection. This condition is treated usually with medication and other forms of therapy.
How Can I Prevent Salmonella Infection?
Salmonella infections are very preventable, as the bacteria is easily killed by cooking and through the pasteurization process. By heating poultry and other foods prone to Salmonella contamination to a temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk for Salmonella infection is greatly reduced. The risk of infection can also be reduced by avoiding ingestion of raw eggs or egg products, or raw meat, unwashed produce. Practicing good food safety methods, like handwashing, separating ready-to-eat foods from raw meats, and thoroughly cleaning food preparation areas and tools are also helpful in preventing Salmonella infection.
The avoidance of raw cookie dough and other foods with raw eggs is also highly recommended. If you must consume raw eggs, it is recommended that you choose eggs that have been pasteurized.
Good handwashing practices are also highly recommended for homes that keep domesticated birds, poultry, reptiles, or amphibians. In many instances, the CDC recommends those with domesticated poultry or “backyard flocks” keep their birds outside in coups instead of in the house and to always supervise young children when in the presence of these animals.