Salmonellosis is garden-variety food poisoning. Not very exciting by itself, but do you know what actually causes it? How about what things could have it and make you sick? Before you take a sip of that eggnog, nibble that cookie dough, or pick up your pet lizard, think again … and read this!

Salmonella is the bacteria which causes Salmonellosis. It is a naturally occurring bacteria in the digestive tract of most animals, and so infection is most often related to foods contaminated with feces. Now, before you go on to say how clean your kitchen is, how you think you’d notice something like that, and how this doesn’t apply to you, think about this: salmonella-contaminated food doesn’t look or smell different than non-contaminated food. Worse, most people think you can only get salmonella from eggs and poultry. Wrong again.

Here are a few sources of salmonella in the kitchen: homemade hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other salad dressings, tiramisu, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, cookie dough, and frostings, undercooked poultry and other meats, especially hamburgers, raw or unpasteurized milk or other dairy products (1).

What else? You’d be surprised. The handling of reptiles have been implicated a large proportion of salmonellosis cases. Animals of particular concern include birds, turtles, iguanas, and snakes. In fact, the 1975 banning of the sale of small pet turtles in the US reduced the yearly number of salmonellosis cases dramatically.

Salmonellosis cases are reported at a rate of about 40,000 cases a year in the US. However, mild cases are common, and therefore may be overlooked and not reported. The CDC estimates that unreported cases may make the actual occurrence rate as much as twenty times greater than that – 800,000 cases (1)! Cases are more likely to be severe in immunocompromised individuals (such as AIDS patients), the elderly and young children. The symptoms of infection include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. The incubation period is 12 to 72 hours.

The duration of illness is generally 4-7 days, and sometimes runs its course without requiring treatment. However, in some cases the diarrhea may be so severe as to require hospitalization, but this usually occurs in elderly patients. The symptoms of salmonellosis are common to many diseases, so diagnosis depends on isolating the bacterium from the patient’s stool. When salmonellosis is diagnosed antibiotics are the treatment. This is required when the infection has spread to the intestines or when dehydration from diarrhea has become severe.

Salmonellosis is fairly easily prevented. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling birds or reptiles. When preparing food, keep ready-to-eat foods separate from foods that still need to be cooked (meats, etc.). Be sure to wipe down countertops and cutting boards that may have been in contact with raw meat during meal preparation. Cook all meat thoroughly, ensuring that there is no pink in the center.

Drink only pasteurized milk, not raw milk. If you need to home-prepare foods like hollandaise sauce or eggnog, using pasteurized egg products from the store will reduce the danger the salmonella. Avoid giving these kinds of foods to high-risk individuals (elderly, kids, and the immunocompromised). And as always, breast is best – mother’s milk is obviously a lower-risk choice than cow’s milk.

Alarmingly, “some Salmonella bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, largely as a result of the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals” (1). One way you can help lower your risk of contracting salmonellosis is by buying certified organic products.

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