Salmonella Can Be Prevented

August 18, 2019

Salmonella. It’s often in the news when it is found on food. Most recently, it was mentioned in an outbreak associated to pig-ear dog treats, and it worried many pet parents.

Discovered by Theobald Smith more than 100 years ago, salmonella is named after Dr. Daniel Salmon, the first president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 

But salmonella is a bacteria that affects people – about 1.2 million each year in the United States leadings to hospitalizations or worse.  It infects people (or animals) through the ingestion directly or indirectly contaminated food. For every person that is confirmed to have the illness, it is predicted that there are about 30 more cases that are not reported.

“People infected with salmonella usually develop sudden diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps in about 12-72 hours after being ingestion the germ,” Sue Stiner, MSN, RN, CIC, Inpatient Dialysis, and Infection Prevention and Control Director at Penn Highlands DuBois, said. “The illness lasts about four to seven days, and it clears up without treatment most of the time." 

Those who are elderly, have impaired immune systems or are infants are more likely to have complications from the germ. If a patient has severe diarrhea, it can lead to dehydration which can snowball into other health problems.  If the bacteria spreads from the intestines to the blood stream, it can cause further issues if not treated with antibiotics, and today, an extra concern is that many strains of salmonella are becoming resistant to antibiotics. 

Few long-term effects of salmonella are known. It may be several months until bowel habits are entirely normal, again. Some people may develop pain in their joints, a reaction called reactive arthritis. This can last months or years, and it can be accompanied by eye irritations and painful urination.

How does salmonella spread?

It can come from animals. Dogs, cats, birds and reptiles, such as lizards, snakes and turtles, can carry it. Petting the animal and not washing one’s hands can spread it. 

It can be in/on meats, including chicken, turkey, duck, beef, veal and pork.

It can get on items that were in contact with infected manure – such as vegetables and fruits from gardens using manure as fertilizer. This is how lettuce, spinach or strawberries can get salmonella on them. Or contaminated water can be used on the fields. 

How do you prevent being infected by salmonella?  “Salmonella doesn’t have an odor or any specific look to indicate it is there,” Beth Keth, RN, BSN, Organizational Performance Improvement and PatientSafety Officer of Penn Highlands Brookville, said. But there are a few ways to protect yourself:

“Wash your hands often, or at least, use sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol,” Rhonda Chilson, RN, Director of Quality Assessment and Infection Control at Penn Highlands Elk, said. Wash your hands before, during and after preparing food, before eating food, or after handling pet food, pet waste and pets. Wash them after using the restroom, changing a diapers and touching garbage. Just wash your hands.

“Avoid eating raw or barely cooked eggs. Chickens that carry salmonella can pass the bacteria before the egg shells are formed. Keep eggs refrigerated to 40 degrees,” Diane Bengtson, RN-BC, MS, CCHC, Director of Quality and Patient Safety, Penn Highlands Clearfield.

Don’t eat undercooked meat – especially chicken. Cook meets to recommended temperatures: whole meats 145°F, ground meats 160°F and poultry 165°F. Refrigerate food properly before cooking it and after serving it.

Keep your kitchen surfaces clean. Don’t reuse utensils, plates or cutting boards that you just used for raw meat. Wash your hands after touching raw meat.

Wash your raw fruits and vegetables well. Use a scrub brush even on items with rinds, like cantaloupe. Think about the knife pushing through the item – it could push bacteria onto the flesh of the fruit.
Salmonella is taken very seriously by healthcare facilities throughout the United States and the federal government. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors the frequency of Salmonella infections in the country and assists the local and state health departments in investigating outbreaks and devising control measures.

The Food and Drug Administration inspects imported foods, oversees inspection of milk pasteurization plants, promotes better food preparation techniques in restaurants and food processing plants, and regulates the sale of turtles. 

The US Department of Agriculture monitors the health of food animals, inspects egg pasteurization plants and is responsible for the quality of slaughtered and processed meat. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency regulates and monitors the safety of drinking water supplies.
Though monitored closely, taking personal precautions is always the best way to stay healthy, and if your do develop the symptoms mentioned and have concerns, always seek medical care.