Here are the warning signs of salmonella—plus, how to prevent this potentially deadly illness from spreading in your kitchen.
There have been 12 salmonella outbreaks in 2018, and each case has affected grocery stores and home cooks around the U.S. There have been nationwide recalls on items from tainted cereal to contaminated eggs, and as more outbreaks occur, Americans are pushing for tighter food safety regulations.
One of the foodborne illnesses giving federal agencies trouble is salmonella, a family of bacteria that can easily transfer onto any surface once it makes contact. Recent headlines make it seem like salmonella poisoning has been particularly bad this year, but the Centers for Disease Control says that it causes 1.2 million people to get sick each year. On top of that, around 23,000 people are hospitalized, and about 450 people die each year in the U.S.
There are a few telltale signs that you've contracted salmonella, which can easily be mistaken for a case of food poisoning. There are also several ways to protect yourself from it, too.
Learn more about foodborne illnesses and how to protect your family:
- What Is Food Poisoning? Here's How to Stay Safe
- These 12 Foods Are Most Likely to Get You Sick, CDC Says
- The Cringe-Worthy Reason You Should Toss Your Reusable Shopping Bag
What Is Salmonella Poisoning?
Salmonella is often confused with food poisoning, but there are actually a few different strains of bacteria within the salmonella family that contribute to the virality of the sickness. There are two types that are the most common in the United States: Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium, according to the CDC.
Salmonella bacteria thrive within the intestines of both humans and animals, and can make people sick when they eat foods that have come into contact with salmonella-tainted fecal matter. Kitchen staples such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood can come into contact with feces when the product is butchered, harvested, or packaged. Salmonella also commonly affects fruit and vegetables, especially when these items are washed with untreated or contaminated water.
When it comes to eggs (we've seen two major recalls this year), chickens that are infected with the bacteria can pass the illness onto the eggs that they lay, according to the Mayo Clinic. Salmonella bacteria can also be present in processed foods—hence the recent Kellogg’s Honey Smacks recall.
What are the Symptoms of Salmonella?
The bad news is that there's no way to truly tell if your food is contaminated. Argyris Magoulas, a member of the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, told Health that salmonella doesn't impact the taste, smell, or appearance of any food that could get you sick.
Salmonella is often mistaken for food poisoning because the side effects are very similar—both usually present symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, cramping, and severe stomach pain. Salmonella symptoms can appear anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after a person has eaten food containing salmonella bacteria, and the sickness can last anywhere between four and seven days. The FDA says, more often than not, people who get sick with salmonella do not seek medical attention and can typically get over the illness without any treatment.
However, in severe cases, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, and medical attention is necessary. When symptoms are this severe, the bacteria can make its way into the bloodstream which can be deadly without antibiotics and proper care. This is why those with weakened or underdeveloped immune systems—like children and seniors—are more at risk when it comes to developing a severe, life-threatening salmonella infection.
How Can I Prevent Salmonella in My Kitchen?
One of the most important steps to reduce your chance of contracting salmonella is to keep your kitchen clean. This is especially true if you handle any raw ingredients like seafood, meat, poultry, and eggs.
Wash your hands diligently before, during, and after any prep. You should also disinfect your utensils, cutting boards, and kitchen surfaces with antibacterial soap, thoroughly and often, the CDC advises. When preparing raw foods in your kitchen, be careful to not cross-contaminate items such as raw poultry and washed veggies—this is how many innocuously contaminate their meals, Magoulas says.
Cook food as thoroughly as you can, and do not eat or drink raw foods or things like raw, unpasteurized milk. This is especially true for children and the elderly, who are more susceptible to the illness.
When it comes to the riskiest foods that are more likely to get you sick, home cooks should always keep an eye out for official recalls from federal agencies, as these warnings have the potential to include life-threatening cases.