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Salmonella: Frequently Asked Questions

Get Answers to Questions About the Salmonella Outbreak Tied to Mexican Jalapeno Peppers
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Health officials are investigating the source of the SalmonellaSaintpaul outbreak. While tomatoes were the No. 1 suspect when the outbreak began, the FDA announced on July 17, 2008, that all tomatoes -- from every source -- are safe to eat.

The FDA advises consumers to avoid raw jalapeno and serrano peppers -- and foods that contains them -- from Mexico until further notice.

Peppers grown the in U.S. are no longer on the FDA's warning list. Commercially canned, pickled, and cooked jalapeno and serrano peppers from any and all locations are fine to eat and aren't linked to the salmonella outbreak.

Here are 14 questions and answers about salmonella, symptoms of salmonella infection, and how to avoid salmonella.

What is salmonella?

Salmonella are bacteria that can live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals. There are many strains of salmonella; the tomato outbreak involves an uncommon strain called Salmonella Saintpaul.

What are symptoms of salmonella infection?

Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) can cause diarrhea (which may be bloody), fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Symptoms typically start 12-72 hours after infection.

Who's at risk?

Anyone can get salmonella. Most cases aren't severe. Serious and potentially fatal cases are more likely in young children, frail or elderly people, and people with weak immune systems. Those cases can happen when salmonella infection spreads from the intestines to the blood and other parts of the body.

For the latest news on the number of cases in the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, visit the CDC's web site.

Will rinsing fruits and vegetables get rid of salmonella?

Rinsing tainted fruits and vegetables probably won't get rid of salmonella, according to the FDA. In general, it's important to handle foods safely. That generally means rinsing raw, whole fruits and vegetables under running water and, if you choose, scrubbing them with a small vegetable brush to remove surface dirt. It also means that when you cook foods, you cook them thoroughly.

What if I wash fruits and vegetables with a detergent, too?

The FDA doesn't recommend using any kind of detergent to wash fresh produce, because "it is not yet known if their residues are harmful to humans," states the FDA's web site.

Does cooking kill salmonella?

Thorough cooking can kill salmonella. But when health officials warn people not to eat potentially contaminated food, or when a food is recalled because of salmonella risk, that means don't eat that food, cooked or not, rinsed or not. The stakes are too high.

Besides tomatoes and peppers, what other foods may contain salmonella?

Any raw food of animal origin -- such as meat, poultry, milk and dairy products, eggs, and seafood -- and some fruits and vegetables may carry salmonella bacteria, states the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection web site, adding that salmonella bacteria can contaminate other foods that come in contact with raw meat and poultry. That's why thorough cooking and cleanliness are so important in the kitchen.

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