Salmonella: The Invisible Threat is Also the Number One Food-borne Pathogen in the United States
How can consumers protect themselves from a threat that they cannot see, smell, taste or feel? Thousands upon thousands of Americans battle an invisible enemy every year in an unfair and unequal battle. Salmonella is the number one food borne disease diagnosed annually and although we can take precautions to mitigate a fight we are clearly at a disadvantage. Salmonella, the bacteria found in the intestines of people and animals, makes its way into our food or transfers from animal to human upon contact, and can impose mild to severe symptoms or even cause death. And, because Salmonella cannot be detected, the only weapon we have in the battle is vigilance.
In addition to understanding how we contract food poisoning, and, according to both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are steps we can all take while practicing good food hygiene;
According to national Food Poisoning Lawyer Ron Simon, these are four behaviors that everyone should adapt as paramount in dealing with the threat of Salmonella which, per the CDC, causes 1 million food borne illnesses annually. Simon also notes that Salmonella can be present in many types of foods we enjoy on a daily basis, and is not limited to raw chicken like may consumers believe. It can be in any food from improperly prepared meats to fresh fruits and vegetables to processed foods. Some food sources having come in contact with Salmonella early in the earth to table cycle will make us ill even though we have taken precautions. However, consumers can take steps to avoid Salmonella in many other foods developing simple habits in the kitchen.
Now more than ever there is an understanding of the importance of cleaning hands regularly. The most used kitchen tools, hands, will pick up any bacteria or germ breeding on foods that we are preparing. Washing hands before handling meats, produce, or eggs, will keep uncontaminated foods safe. And, washing hands after prepping foods, as well as all surfaces – counter tops, cutting boards, sinks and utensils used will mitigate spread of any potential pathogen from one ingredient to the next. And, although produce should be washed thoroughly with running water, it is not recommended to wash raw meats before cooking as the risk of cross contamination is elevated. And, a disinfectant should always be used as a last cleaning step.
Salmonella does not require much to thrive. Raw meats and uncooked meats are one of their happy places- where they not only survive but multiply. And, until the meat is cooked, properly, killing dangerous bacteria, the risk of cross contamination is high. From the point at which meat is selected at the grocery store, hopefully packaged carefully and securely to allay the chance of juices or blood from dripping onto other surfaces, to prepping the meat for cooking on a cutting board in the kitchen, the risk of food poisoning should be considered. At the grocery store, keep raw meats separate from other foods. When stored for later consumption at home, keep in dedicated area in the fridge – disinfecting regularly. And, while prepping meats a dedicated and frequently disinfected cutting board is a must.
Not only for taste and texture, the cooking of certain foods is vital to stave off illness or death. Certain foods, eggs and meat, in particular, have methods and temperatures recommended by health officials such as the FDA. They advise the following temperatures be reached, by meat, when cooking:
- Beef, pork, veal & lamb: 145°
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, geese or ducks): 165°
- Ground meats and egg dishes: 160°
- Fish & seafood: 145°
A food thermometer, checked regularly for accuracy, can determine the internal temperature of meats as they cook.
As important as it is to reach a certain high temperature in order to cook meat properly and safely, so is it important to keep certain foods at a specific chill temperature while storing ahead of cooking. According to the CDC, refrigeration is ideal at 40° or lower. And, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) foods requiring refrigeration are in a ‘danger zone’ when between 40° and 140° for longer than 2 hours, though the shorter amount of time the better. Vigilance of this is specifically necessary in warmer weather, when picnics, backyard parties and BBQs are popular.
For those unlucky enough to contract Salmonellosis, a name for the salmonella infection which aggravates the intestinal tract, the symptoms can range drastically. From mild to severe- individuals can experience headaches, tiredness and dizziness, diarrhea -sometimes bloody, vomiting and stomach cramps and pain, general body pain and fever. Severe cases of Salmonella can require hospitalization. Antibiotics are generally not prescribed but replenishing fluids generally lost with diarrhea and vomiting is typically a first course of action.
If an individual believes they have come in contact with Salmonella – especially if elderly, a child, or someone with a compromised immune system, seeking medical care is advised. Testing of the individual’s stool will determine the presents of this pathogen. And, unless the patient is having severe symptoms due to an underlying issue or immune system unable to fight off the infection, the illness will usually resolve in a week or so. Although foodborne pathogens have the upper hand, being difficult to detect up-front, individuals should practice safe food handling and in particular adhere to the four recommended steps outlined above. Awareness, vigilance and safe food handling will abate some of the risk and incidents of food poisoning.