Salmonella Causes Illness

Take precautions to stay safe

August 06, 2015

Every year, Salmonella is estimated to cause 1 million illnesses in the United States, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths. 

Recently in the news, Barber Foods issued an expanded recall of approximately 1.7 million pounds of frozen, raw stuffed chicken products that may be contaminated with Salmonella sold under many different brand names, including Barber Foods, Meijer, and Sysco.

But this isn’t new. Public health scientists have tracked Salmonella infections in the United States since 1962, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

What is Salmonella? 

Salmonella is a bacteria and a common cause of food borne illnesses; sometimes it is just called food poisoning, according to JoAnn Schatz, the director of Nutritional Services at Penn Highlands Elk.

Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of people, animals and birds. Most people are infected with salmonella by eating foods that have been contaminated by their feces. 

Salmonella outbreaks are associated with poultry and eggs, meats, milk and dairy products and produce, such as tomatoes, peppers and cantaloupes, Kendra Crabtree, director of Food Services at Penn Highlands DuBois, said.

 “Although many other food borne illnesses have declined in the past 15 years, Salmonella infections have not declined at all,” Schatz said. 

When ingested, most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting, according to Amy Powell, RN and Emergency Department supervisor at Penn Highlands Brookville.

Other symptoms include headache, malaise, muscle pain, delirium and rash on the trunk or chest. “More than 50 percent of infected individuals are asymptomatic (without symptoms) in an outbreak,” Powell said. If complications develop, there may be a persistent fever, joint pain, respiratory issues, fluid and electrolyte imbalance, and an altered mental status.”

Signs and symptoms vary according to type of Salmonella it is, Powell said.  There are different strains. It also depends upon the patient’s health status and the amount of bacteria ingested.
Typically, the illness usually lasts 4-7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. If there is medication prescribed, it is usually an anti-diarrheal medication to help relieve the cramping and/or an antibiotic if it is severe or the patient has a compromised immune system, according to the Emergency Department at Penn Highlands Clearfield.

However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized for dehydration. 

For every one case of Salmonella illness that is confirmed in the laboratory, there are about 30 times more cases of Salmonella illnesses that were not confirmed.
Most people who get food poisoning usually do not go the doctor, and therefore don't get laboratory confirmation of exactly what made them sick. So Salmonella can cause more illness than you might suspect.

“Salmonella can be prevented by using proper food safety in the kitchen, specifically by preventing cross contamination,” Anna Hummel, clinical dietitian at Penn Highlands Brookville and a certified ServSafe instructor and proctor, said. 

Cross contamination is the main cause of Salmonella foodborne illnesses. “Be sure to keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods that require little or no cooking.”

“Never use the same cutting board for raw food and then immediately use it for ready-to-eat foods. Use separate cooking tools for them and raw foods, and properly clean, rinse and sanitize the work area and all equipment and utensils between foods,” Hummel said.

“Additionally, be sure to keep raw meats at the bottom of the refrigerator and ready-to-eat foods on top. This prevents juices from dripping and contaminating the ready-to-eat foods,” she added.

“Always follow proper cooking temperatures. Cook poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and eggs for immediate service to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“You should never eat raw or lightly cooked (runny whites or yolks) eggs, either,” Schatz said. 

Though chicken feces on the outside of egg shells used to be a common cause of Salmonella contamination, stringent procedures for cleaning and inspecting eggs were implemented in the 1970s. 

Today, however, what started in the 1980s is a type of Salmonella can silently infect healthy appearing hens and contaminate the inside of eggs before the shells are formed.

Also, Salmonella illness is more common in the summer, Schatz said. “Warmer weather gives bacteria more opportunity to contaminate food. When eating outdoors in the summer, either in the backyard or on a picnic, always keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.” When you're finished eating, refrigerate leftovers promptly. Don't let food sit out for more than two hours. On a hot day, reduce this time to one hour.

Although anyone can get a Salmonella infection, older adults, infants and people with impaired immune systems are at increased risk for serious illness. In these people, a relatively small number of Salmonella bacteria can cause severe illness.

Taking precautions can keep everyone healthy.