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Salmonella: Frequently Asked Questions

Get Answers to Questions About the Salmonella Outbreak Tied to Mexican Jalapeno Peppers

What can I do to prevent salmonella infection?

It boils down to food safety. That starts on the farm and goes all the way to your kitchen. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has this advice:

  • Consider using paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Always wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops, and utensils with hot soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Cook foods thoroughly and refrigerate them promptly.
  • Don't thaw foods at room temperature.
  • Use a clean food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, casseroles, and other foods.

How does salmonella spread?

Salmonella can pass from human or animal feces to soil, fruits, vegetables, water, or other surfaces. People usually get salmonella by eating contaminated foods. However, salmonella can also spread through contact with pet feces or by handling contaminated pet food.

Reptiles are particularly likely to harbor salmonella bacteria, and chicks and ducklings can carry them too, notes the CDC. The U.S. government bans the sale of small pet turtles because of salmonella risk.

 

How common is salmonella infection?

Salmonella is commonly found in birds, in reptiles, in chickens, and in humans. There are more than 2,000 types of salmonella.

Every year, the CDC gets reports of about 40,000 cases of salmonella illnesses. The actual number of cases may be higher because not all cases get reported to the CDC. In fact, the CDC estimates that for every reported case, 38 cases go unreported.

An estimated 400 people per year die of acute salmonella infection, according to the CDC.

But the Salmonella Saintpaul strain is rare in humans. Last year, there were 400 reported cases. And last year there were only 25 cases of infection with the specific Saintpaul subtype causing the current outbreak.

Are salmonella cases on the rise?

Not according to the CDC's preliminary food safety data for 2007, which show no significant change from 2004-2007 in the incidence of salmonella infection reported to the CDC. But the salmonella incidence rate is more than twice as high as the government's goal for 2010, so the CDC says "new approaches" are needed to curb salmonella infection.

How is salmonella infection diagnosed?

By a stool test.

How is salmonella infection treated?

Most people don't require treatment other than drinking plenty of fluids. People with severe diarrhea may require rehydration with intravenous fluids. Antibiotics are usually not used unless the salmonella infection has spread beyond the intestines.

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