Salmonella invading cultured human cells
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What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a nasty bacterium that sometimes turns up in the food supply, including chicken, tomatoes, peanuts, salsa, guacamole, and even pet food. It thrives in the intestinal tracts of animals and humans and can cause food poisoning. Illnesses range from mild to very serious infections that can kill vulnerable people. But there are ways to protect yourself.

Shown here is a color-enhanced, magnified view of salmonella bacteria invading human cells.

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Woman separating egg, close-up
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Food Sources of 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. People should avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry or eggs, along with unpasteurized dairy products. The list also includes homemade foods made with raw eggs, such as mayonnaise, cookie dough, and ice cream.

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Omelette with pieces of tomato in frying pan
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Can Cooking or Washing Help?

Thorough cooking can kill salmonella. While it's always a good idea to rinse fruits and vegetables, it may not get rid of salmonella, particularly during an outbreak -- it's best just to throw any suspect produce away. Further, when health officials warn people not to eat potentially contaminated food during an outbreak, that means you shouldn't eat that food, cooked or not.

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Red grapes being washed in a kitchen sink
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Food Safety Tips

The FDA recommends these practices for all fruits and vegetables to prevent food poisoning:

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling them.
  • Wash produce thoroughly under running water, not in a tub or sink.
  • Use a clean cutting board and utensils. Don't let produce come into contact with other raw foods or surfaces they have touched.
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Hand holding a box turtle
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Non-Food Sources of Salmonella

Pets may carry salmonella bacteria in their intestines, so their feces are a potential concern. Certain pets, such as turtles, snakes and other reptiles, and chicks and other birds are more likely to carry it. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after coming into contact with any pet or their droppings.

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Child playing with baby chicks
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Salmonella in Baby Chicks

The CDC warns of recurring salmonella outbreaks in baby chicks. One outbreak tends to recur every spring, as parents buy chicks as Easter gifts for their kids. The CDC warns parents not to do this. Kids under age 5 should never handle baby chicks or ducks.

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Woman sitting bent over holding stomach
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Salmonella Symptoms and Treatments

Symptoms of salmonellosis include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever that develop 12 to 72 hours after eating. Most people recover in four to seven days and don't require treatment other than drinking plenty of fluids. People with severe diarrhea may require intravenous fluids. Antibiotics are not always needed in healthy people unless the salmonella infection has spread beyond the intestines. Serious -- and potentially fatal -- cases are more likely in young children, frail or elderly people, and people with weak immune systems. 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/02/2016 Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 02, 2016

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

(1)   Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

(2)   Veronique Beranger / Riser Collection / Getty Images

(3)   Klaus Arras / StockFood Creative / Getty Images

(4)   Anna Dzondzua / iStockphoto

(5)   iStockphoto

(6)   iStockphoto

(7)   Tom Le Goff / Digital Vision / Getty Images

REFERENCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site.

CDC Media Relations, News Release.

CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Aug. 29, 2008.

CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 16, 2008.

CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 25, 2008.

FDA web site.

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 02, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.