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Food poisoning is the common term many people use to refer to foodborne illness. When a source for an outbreak is identified, salmonella is one of the most common types of foodborne illnesses reported. It is responsible for millions of cases of foodborne illnesses each year.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that is so small it cannot be seen without a microscope. It can cause an intestinal illness in people and animals. The symptoms of salmonella include abdominal pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, fever and diarrhea. People may become sick eight to 72 hours after they have eaten contaminated food.
If the bacteria is present in food, it does not usually affect the taste, smell or appearance. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening especially for the very young, the elderly and for persons with impaired immune systems.
Where does Salmonella come from?
Any raw food of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, milk and dairy products, eggs, seafood and some fruits and vegetables may carry salmonella bacteria.
The bacteria can survive to cause illness if meat, poultry, egg products are not cooked to a safe minimum temperature, as measured with a food thermometer, and if fruits and vegetables are not thoroughly washed. The bacteria can also contaminate other foods that comes in contact with raw meat and poultry. Safe food handling practices are necessary to prevent bacteria from causing illness.
How can Salmonella be prevented?
1) Hands should be washed with warm soapy water before and after handling food, using the restroom, changing diapers, touching pets and before eating.
2) Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go to the next food. Sanitize with a chlorine bleach and water solution (one teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart water).
3) Wash fruits and vegetable before preparing or eating.
4) Use plastic or non-porous cutting boards. These boards should be thoroughly washed in hot soapy water and rinsed after use. Sanitize as needed. If possible, use different cutting boards for meat and produce.
5) Separate raw meat and poultry and seafood from other foods in your food-shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
6) Use a clean thermometer to check the internal temperature of food to make sure food is thoroughly cooked. Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly to at least 165 degrees.
7) Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours or sooner.
8) Never defrost food at room temperature. Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave. Marinate foods in the refrigerator.
9) Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Don’t pack the refrigerator. Cool air must circulate to keep food safe.
Contact Dianne Gatewood, extension agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, at 253-2610 (Brunswick County) or 798-7663 (New Hanover County) if you have questions or would like to receive a bulletin entitled, “Keeping Food Safe to Eat at Home.”