One of the most common, yet frequently overlooked bacteria that are potentially very dangerous for humans is salmonella, a genus of bacteria responsible for over 1.000.000 infections every year in the US alone. Among these, 19.000 are hospitalized and more or less 380 happen to be fatal, making salmonella a life-threatening infection that can kill.
The most crucial thing to have in mind is the way these bacteria are transmitted, as one can be initially protected by recognizing potentially harmful conditions when it comes to food preparation and consumption. First of all, the majority of the food-transmitted cases of salmonella occur because of undercooked (or uncooked) poultry, eggs and meat, as they are the products that most often carry the bacteria. It is also possible to be transmitted via cross-contamination, for example, like preparing a salad on the same cutting board that someone has chopped raw chicken without thoroughly cleaning it afterwards, or storing raw meat next to ready-to-eat foods.
The signs of salmonella infection occur usually within 12 to 72 hours and habitually involve diarrhea (ranging in intensity), fever, abdominal cramps, and nausea and/or vomiting. As a rule, these symptoms will go away within a week as the immune system can fend off the infection, especially if the patient rests well and remains well hydrated (diarrhea and/or vomiting can lead to dehydration), but in rare cases the infection can become very serious, requesting antibiotics and immediate medical care. The most common groups that suffer from acute cases are children and elderly, as naturally they have weaker immune systems that cannot always cope with such infection.
Prevention of salmonella infection is something that can be done if much care is given during food storage, preparation, and consumption. When at home, try to remember the basic rules of salmonella prevention:
– Poultry meat and eggs should be cooked well.
– Keep hygienic conditions during food preparation (clean properly the knives, cutting boards etc).
– Do not touch your face after touching raw meat without first washing your hands.
– Do not store raw meat in the same place with cooked food. Take precautions that liquid from the raw meat cannot spill and potentially contaminate other areas.
When in restaurants, it is arguably much harder to check if all these conditions are followed, thus it is advisable to order food well cooked as salmonella cannot withstand high temperatures. Unfortunately, you can’t totally trust a restaurant for keeping extremely high standards of hygiene and food preparation.
The last thing that one needs to remember is that salmonella can be transmitted by live animals as well, especially birds and reptiles, as the bacteria can be found on their skin, feathers and feces. Should one have contact with potentially infected animals, it is vital to thoroughly wash the hands and any other body parts that came into contact in order to avoid infection.