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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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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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    Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 02, 2016