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How to Prevent Salmonella Poisoning

Whether you’re popping in a stuffed turkey for Thanksgiving or frying chicken for dinner, the threat of salmonella poisoning is lurking in the far corners of your poultry and even in food items you’d never even thought would fall victim to this onslaught of bacteria. Contrary to popular belief, salmonella poisoning extends beyond raw chicken. You can show symptoms from eating raw eggs and from touching live animals (like pet turtles). However, knowing how to prevent salmonella poisoning is the first step in staying healthy when cooking and eating your meals.

How to Prevent Salmonella Poisoning

What is Salmonella Poisoning?

At the center of salmonella poisoning (or salmonellosis) is bacteria belonging to the genus Salmonella, which multiply within the gastrointestinal tract. The condition is one of the most common and widespread of diseases transmitted through contaminated food consumption. Throughout the food services industry (like restaurants and catering), the condition poses a major public threat. In the world, millions of cases are reported each year. The disease is also responsible for causing thousands of deaths. Today, more than 2,500 known types (called serotypes) of Salmonella exist [1].

Causes and Symptoms

We’ve all heard the horror stories of careless food preparation that leads to people getting sick after eating undercooked food or meals prepared under sloppy conditions. However, some common foods best eaten raw also threaten the safety of an individual. For example, let’s take lettuce. During the process of washing and packing, bacteria found in the soil, water, and dust can contaminate this popular salad ingredient.

Raw meats are high on the list for causing salmonella poisoning, as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 60% or more of raw poultry sold at your local grocery store carries some disease-causing bacteria. It’s through proper cooking methods and high temperatures that the bacteria are eliminated. If cutting boards, countertops, and utensils have come in contact with raw meat, they too become a cause of the disease.

The symptoms of salmonella poisoning start to take shape between eight and 72 hours after eating contaminated food. If you suspect salmonella poisoning, consider the following typical symptoms that arise after eating contaminated food:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dehydration (in severe cases)

Salmonella Poisoning Prevention

The food supply in the United States is most likely one of the safest in the world, but that doesn’t stop salmonella cases from taking place. Anyone can become a victim of food poisoning. However, if you are an infant, elderly man or woman, or possess a weakened immune system, your chances of suffering the most severe and life threatening of cases is pretty high. To stay ahead of this type of food poisoning, consider the following prevention tips:

a) Proper Washing Practices:

Before and after handling raw poultry or eggs, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands. After cutting raw meat, thoroughly attend to the knife, cutting board, and countertops using hot, soapy water. It is also important to avoid cross-contamination. Don’t forget to separate raw meat, fish, poultry, and their juices from other food.

b) No Raw Eggs:

If your eggs have not gone through pasteurization (which destroys salmonella bacteria), then you are at risk for contamination. This means you should resist the homemade cookie dough and eggnog – unless pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes were used. When cooking eggs, make sure that their internal temperature reaches at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 15 seconds. The yolk and white part should both be solid. Another egg tip is to adhere to the “use by” date marked on the carton.

c) Room Temperature Alert:

Leaving food at room temperature for longer than two hours will place your meals at risk for salmonella poisoning. It is suggested to leave food out for a minimum of one hour, especially if it’s a hot, summer day. Additionally, hot foods should stay hot and cold foods should stay cold. Utilize heat sources (like an oven set to ‘warm’) and cold sources (like an ice-filled cooler).

d) Know the Facts:

Interestingly, about one out of every 1,000 people get food poisoning from Salmonella. Two-thirds of these cases are under the age of 20 with most instances taking place in warmer months – between July and October.

e) Get Familiar with the Danger Zone:

Foods that have been in the “danger zone” for too long (between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than two hours should be left alone.

f) Thoroughly Cook Chicken Breast:

Chicken is not a food that tastes best when ordered ‘medium-rare.’ Chicken breast should reach an internal temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Whole chickens require an internal temperature of 180 degrees, which should be measured in the thigh.

g) Get a Meat Thermometer:

In order to make sure you are cooking your meats at a suitable, healthy temperature, invest in a decent meat thermometer to act as your guide.

h) Picnic Safety:

When serving perishable food during a picnic or cookout, use a cooler filled with ice. Place the cooler in the shade and minimize the amount of times that you open the lid.

i) Beware of Self-Canning:

People who can their own jelly or consume large amounts of commercially prepared canned vegetables may come in contact with salmonella bacteria due to improper processing at too low of a temperature or for not cooking long enough in order to kill the bacteria.

j) Protect Your Infant:

A mother’s milk is the safest source of nourishment for a baby; breastfeeding can prevent salmonellosis.

k) Reptile Handling:

It is highly recommended to avoid direct (and even indirect contact) with the slithery and slippery members of the animal kingdom. Avoid turtles, iguanas, snakes, and other lizards. Additionally, do not purchase a reptile for a household that includes an infant or an individual with a compromised immune system.


[1] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs139/en/

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