What Is Salmonella?
Salmonella is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States. Each year, salmonella infections, called salmonellosis, sicken more than 1 million people. Up to 450 die from salmonella poisoning annually.
The common bacteria “can live in many animals, such as livestock, pets, reptiles, and sometimes humans,” says Alan Taege, MD, an infectious diseases specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Salmonella can be found in the intestines of animals, especially pigs and poultry, and it is spread through their feces. For example, if contaminated feces get into the water that’s used to irrigate crops, those crops can carry the bacteria to the market. Raw poultry can sometimes be contaminated with the bacteria. It can be spread throughout your kitchen if you don’t wash your hands, cutting board, and any knives or other utensils after you handle raw poultry.
What foods are most likely to become contaminated with salmonella?
Any raw or undercooked animal product can carry salmonella. That includes meat, unpasteurized dairy products like milk and cheese, eggs, and seafood. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts also can become contaminated with salmonella. In the past 2 years, the CDC has reported outbreaks associated with particular brands of alfalfa sprouts, pistachios, nut butters, and cucumbers.
How do I know if a food has been contaminated with salmonella, and where can I find a list of recalled products?
You can’t spot salmonella by looking at or smelling food. However, you can keep up to date on reported outbreaks if you are concerned that your food may be contaminated. The CDC and the FDA have information about ongoing and recent outbreaks, including which products consumers should avoid.
What pets can carry salmonella?
Turtles, frogs, lizards, and other reptiles and amphibians often carry salmonella. Because they spread the bacteria through their feces, you can become infected by handling them or cleaning up after them. The same goes for backyard chickens, another common carrier of salmonella. Such pets will not show signs that they have the bacteria, so it’s best to be cautious and act as if they do. Always thoroughly wash your hands after coming into contact with or cleaning up after any potential carriers. Don’t allow them into your kitchen or any rooms where food is stored, prepared, or served.
Salmonella can sicken pets such as cats and dogs, so avoid feeding them raw foods.