Salmonella is the most frequently reported cause of foodborne illness. In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documented 39,027 cases. Much is being learned about Salmonella and the risks associated with it through FoodNet, the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network. Begun in 1995, FoodNet is a collaborative project of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and seven participating states. FoodNet tracks cases of foodborne illness to better gauge the prevalence of food-related illness in this country and to monitor the effectiveness of food safety programs in reducing foodborne illness.
What is salmonellosis?
Salmonellosis, or a Salmonella infection, is the illness that can occur if live Salmonella bacteria enter the body, usually through eating foods containing the bacteria. Salmonellosis is one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses, but many cases could be prevented by proper food handling practices.
How do Salmonella bacteria on food make people sick?
Bacteria can grow on just about any food, such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products in particular, as well as vegetables and fruits, such as beans, grains, orange juice, cantaloupe, and sprouts. To survive and multiply, bacteria need time and the right conditions: food, moisture, and warm temperatures. The ideal temperature for bacterial growth is between 40? and 140?F. Salmonella present on raw chicken could survive if the chicken is not cooked thoroughly. Salmonella can also cause foodborne illness through cross-contamination; for example, juices from raw meat or poultry prepared on a cutting board could contaminate salad ingredients if the board was not washed before cutting up the salad. If this salad sat at room temperature for any length of time, the Salmonella would multiply to dangerous numbers. The person who eats the salad then also eats the bacteria and becomes ill.
What are the symptoms of salmonellosis?
According to CDC, most people experience diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 8 to 72 hours after the contaminated food was eaten. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms may last up to 7 days. Many people ill with salmonellosis recover without treatment and may never see a doctor. However, Salmonella infections can be life-threatening especially for the very young, the elderly, and for persons with impaired immune systems.
Are there long-term consequences?
Persons with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of persons who are infected with Salmonella will develop pains in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called Reiter's syndrome. It can last for months or years and can lead to chronic arthritis that is difficult to treat.
How many people get sick from salmonellosis?
Not all cases of foodborne illness are reported, but experts believe that anywhere from 696,000 to 3.8 million people contract salmonellosis each year. The only way to confirm salmonellosis is to conduct laboratory tests on the stools of the ill person, a process that takes several days. To overcome the difficulties caused by unreported cases, the collaborating FoodNet sites have set up a system to actively identify laboratory-confirmed cases of foodborne illnesses. This system will provide more specific numbers in the future.
What foods are most likely to make people sick?
Any raw food of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, milk and dairy products, eggs, seafood, and some fruits and vegetables may carry Salmonella bacteria. The bacteria can survive to cause illness if these foods are not thoroughly cooked. The bacteria can also cause illness if they contaminate any other food that comes in contact with the raw food. Safe food handling practices are necessary to prevent bacteria on raw food from causing illness.
Are Kosher or "free-range" chickens lower in Salmonella bacteria?
FSIS does not know of any valid scientific information that shows that any specific type of chicken has more or less Salmonella bacteria than other poultry.
What is USDA doing to prevent Salmonella contamination?
Under USDA's new science-based inspection system, FSIS will test meat and poultry samples to identify pathogens, including Salmonella. For the first time ever, FSIS is requiring all plants to reduce bacteria by means of a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan and accompanying testing and performance standards. These national performance standards will be adjusted downward over time, even further reducing bacteria levels.
How can salmonellosis be prevented?
Bacteria on raw foods of animal origin do not have to cause illness. The key to preventing illness, at home, in a restaurant, at a church picnic, or anywhere, is to prevent the bacteria from growing to high levels and to destroy the bacteria through thorough cooking. Follow these guidelines for safe food preparation:
CLEAN: Wash Hands and Surfaces Often
SEPARATE: Don't Cross-contaminate
COOK: Cook to Proper Temperatures
CHILL: Refrigerate Promptly
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*contact information updated August 9, 2001
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