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Multistate Salmonella Outbreak in Backyard Poultry

Posted in Our Blog on September 25, 2023

As a small homesteader, we have 7 laying hens. It is perfect for our family’s needs (most of the year). While they are not “pets” in the exact sense of the word, they are fun to watch and take care of. But – a Salmonella Outbreak in Backyard Poultry is all too common.

I participate in many social media groups related to backyard chickens. These groups are great for tips relating to chicken health, treating common chicken illnesses or injuries, feeding chickens, and other chicken related topics.

So many times I am dismayed by some of the “cute” photos that people post. People (including small children) handling chickens, and even kissing them. Many people see their chickens as pets. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that mindset.

Yes, the little fluffy butts are adorable. Some of the bantam breeds definitely rank high on the cute-meter. But chickens are known carriers of certain harmful bacteria and certain safety precautions should be respected accordingly.

Unfortunately, enough people have become sick with Salmonella linked to backyard chickens that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an outbreak notice.

The Outbreak

Public health officials are investigating a multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella infection linked to contact with backyard poultry. So far there have been 690 illnesses related to this outbreak. There have been 141 cases that were serious enough to require hospitalization. No deaths have been linked to the outbreak investigation so far.

“Public health officials are investigating multistate outbreaks of Salmonella linked to contact with backyard poultry. Any backyard poultry can carry Salmonella germs that can make you sick. Always take steps to stay healthy around your flock.”

So far, every state in the United States except Alaska, Delaware, and Hawaii has been linked to this multi-state outbreak. The United States territory of Puerto Rico is also included in this outbreak. This is an active investigation, with new cases being added each week.

Risks of Backyard Poultry

The rewards of backyard poultry are obvious. Fresh eggs and/or meat for your family. Education for your family on the food supply. Pest control. Not to mention entertainment. There are, however, risks associated with raising these animals.

Backyard poultry is more than just chicken. Ducks, quail, turkey, geese, and other small feathered animals are included in this category. These birds can carry Salmonella germs, regardless of how clean and healthy they appear.

Where Does the Salmonella Come From?

So, where exactly does the Salmonella in poultry come from? Salmonella can infect your poultry from many different sources.

From its mother

The baby chick may already be infected at hatching if the hen that laid the egg was infected with Salmonella bacteria. The bacteria may be present inside the egg, which the growing chick uses as a food source until it hatches. Consequently, the chicken consumes this bacteria and becomes born with a Salmonella infection.

From the hatchery

If you purchased your chicks from a hatchery or even incubate them yourself, it takes just 1 baby chick to contaminate the hatchery environment. If a single chick is infected, likely the entire group it is house in will become infected.

From their food

Poultry feed and other household food items that you feed your chicken may be contaminated with Salmonella. Certain feeds derived from fish meals and oilseed meals have a high risk of Salmonella contamination. The raw material used in making this type of feed provides perfect conditions for Salmonella bacteria to grow and thrive. 

From their bedding

The temperature, dust, and humidity in chicken coops are ideal breeding environments for Salmonella bacteria. Once the area is contaminated, it is difficult to remove it. These bacteria can continue to spread throughout the environment.

 From pests

Pests such as cockroaches and rats can carry Salmonella. Unfortunately, these types of pests are attracted to chicken coops as a food source. Keeping the area clean can help reduce infestation, but most outdoor environments are hard to keep completely clean from pests.

How to Keep Your Family Safe

The risks often do not outweigh the rewards when it comes to raising your own flock of backyard poultry. Particularly if you follow common sense safety activities and use caution, understanding that these birds may make your family sick if you are not careful.

People become sick when they come in contact with Salmonella bacteria. This can be as simple as touching something that is contaminated (you cannot see the bacteria) and then touching your mouth or eating.

Wash your hands

Always wash your hands with soap and water immediately after coming in contact with backyard poultry, their eggs, or anything in the area where they live and roam. If handwashing isn’t immediately available, use hand sanitizer, but remember to follow up with soap and water as soon as it is available. The CDC recommends keeping hand sanitizer in your coop to ensure you can sanitize your hands after exposure.

Don’t kiss, snuggle, or eat or drink around them

It should go without saying, but putting your mouth near animals known to carry Salmonella is more than a bad idea. It is an outright dangerous one. Eating or drinking around them is also unsafe. Avoid activities that directly involve putting your hands near your mouth while in an environment that might be contaminated.

Keep things separate

Leave supplies and tools used to care for your backyard flock outside. Feed containers, shoes, and other accessories should be cleaned regularly and left outside. Many people don’t think about how much we track inside our house on the bottoms of our shoes. Shoes known to go into a potentially contaminated environment should not be worn indoors.

Supervise children around flocks

Young children, particularly those younger than 5 years old, are more likely to become sick from germs like Salmonella. Always supervise children around backyard poultry. Safety activities aren’t usually in the forefront of their minds, and they are more likely to engage in risky activities. Make sure children wash their hands properly after being around or handling chickens.

According to the CDC, backyard poultry should not be kept in schools, childcare centers, and other facilities with children younger than 5 years old.

Safely handle eggs

Collect eggs often so that they do not become dirty or break. Cracked or broken eggs should not be consumed because germs can make their way inside the damaged shell. Use fine sandpaper, a brush, or cloth to clean eggs. Cold water can pull germs into the egg, contaminating the egg whites.

Eggs containing the bloom (unwashed) can be stored at room temperature, however refrigeration is recommended to slow the growth of harmful germs. Fully cook eggs to an internal temperature of 160 °F. Both the yolk and the white should be firm.

Salmonella Symptoms

Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause diarrheal illness when consumed. Symptoms often include diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever, and stomach cramps. Some people with salmonellosis may also experience nausea, vomiting, or a headache. Symptoms often begin between 6 hours to 6 days after infection and often last for 4 to 7 days.

Want to Know More?

If you’d like to know more, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell