3 Common Questions and Answers about Salmonella

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In recent years, outbreaks of food poisoning have increased as the result of mass infections occurring within large groups of people who all ate the same contaminated food. The foods most commonly contaminated are the most perishable ones: meat and meat products, fish, milk and dairy products, eggs and mayonnaise, cream, cakes, ice cream.

Serious cases of food poisoning are caused by a large number of germs, so we are talking about heavily contaminated food. In order for the germs to multiply over such a short span of time, certain conditions must be met, especially when it comes to the external environment. The most important one is heat. The higher the infective dose of bacteria, the shorter the incubation period required for the disease and the more severe it will likely be. The age of the infected organism is also important. The most severe cases of food poisoning occur in children and the elderly.

As of the writing of this article, hundreds of people in 18 US states had become sick from a salmonella outbreak, linked to raw chicken products made at three California plants owned by Foster Farms, according to Reuters reports. Most of the cases of illness out of an estimated total of 278 occurred in California and were caused by strains of Salmonella Heidelberg. The contaminated chicken products were distributed in California, Oregon and Washington. “In addition to collaborating with the FSIS and CDC, the company has retained national experts in epidemiology and food safety technology to assess current practices and identify opportunities for further improvement”, stated Foster Farms President Ron Foster.

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a gram-negative oval bacillus that causes diarrheal disease in humans. Bacteria are microscopic living creatures that pass from the feces of people or animals to other people and animals. The Salmonella bacteria family includes over 2,300 serotypes of unicellular bacteria, only visible under a microscope. Two of these types, Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium, are the most common and account for half of all human infections. Some of them may not cause symptoms in animals, but can make people sick, and vice versa.

Usually, even if present in food, Salmonella bacteria do not affect its taste, smell or appearance. It has been known for over 100 years that Salmonella causes illness. The bacterial strand was first discovered by an American scientist, Dr. Daniel E. Salmon.

What are the symptoms?

Most patients experience diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever, 8 to 72 hours after the ingestion of the contaminated food. Other symptoms may include chills, a headache, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms usually disappear in 4 to 7 days. Most sufferers recover without treatment and/or medical advice.

However, Salmonella infections can be life threatening to patients, especially to babies and young children, pregnant women and unborn babies, as well as to adults exposed to a higher risk of food poisoning, i.e. with a weakened immune system (such as people with HIV / AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and those who have had a transplant).

Does Salmonella have long-term consequences?

People who have diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may take them several months for the bowel function to be fully restored. A small number of people infected with Salmonella may experience joint pain, eye irritation and painful urination. These symptoms make up what is called Reiter's syndrome. It may take months or years for them to recover and the syndrome can lead to chronic arthritis, a condition difficult to treat.

Tip: keep food only in proper storing conditions and cook meat at high temperatures, in order to destroy bacteria.

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