The unexpected: Where Salmonella Lurks

Posted by Steve Graham | Sep 12, 2010

Something or someone in your neighborhood probably has salmonella — and not because of the recent egg recall. Salmonella is the scientific name for a large genus of bacteria that live in the intestines of many animals. It may be in a wild lizard, a neighbor’s chicken coop or a trash dumpster.

Salmonella is harmless for many species, but can cause fatal illnesses in humans and other animals. It is the most common cause of food-borne illness in the United States, but raw meat and eggs are not the only source of salmonellosis. Salmonella concerns include other food, pets, neighbors and even fellow family members.

Kitchen concerns


In addition to undercooked meat and eggs, salmonella may also lurk in raw or unpasteurized milk and unwashed produce. A salmonella outbreak was tied to peanut butter contaminated by bird droppings. Even if you peel cantaloupes and other fruits and vegetables before eating, the skin could be contaminated with salmonella from feces in the dirt. Be sure to wash all produce thoroughly.

Also keep in mind that homemade salad dressings, mayonnaise, ice cream and dough may harbor salmonella bacteria. That means you should avoid the temptation to lick cookie batter off the spoon.

Wash hands thoroughly between the handling of different food items, and thoroughly wash cutting boards, knives, counters and other utensils while preparing food.

Protect yourself from pets

Pets are another salmonella threat. In particular, many reptiles are unaffected by salmonella bacteria on their skin. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling reptiles. They are not appropriate for small children, and the Centers for Disease Control warns against having reptiles in homes with infants.

In 1975, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of small turtles, which young children might put in their mouths. However, they are still available, and have been linked to salmonellosis outbreaks.

As more cities allow backyard chicken coops, chicks are also a concern. Young chickens and ducks carry salmonella bacteria, which can contaminate the surface of the animal. Children should not handle nay young birds, and everyone should wash their hands thoroughly after handling any animals.

Protect your pets

Salmonella is a danger for other more common household pets. Take similar precautions with dog and cat food that you would with your family’s food. Don’t buy any food with tears in the packaging or other signs of damage.

Wash all pet food dishes and utensils with soap and hot water after every use, and properly store all leftover food. Also keep pets away from household trash, which may have meat packaging, egg shells or other salmonella threats.

Salmonella safety

In most cases, salmonella illness brings fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps for four to seven days. However, salmonella in the bloodstream can be deadly, and the bacteria is a serious health threat for infants, the elderly and people with other chronic medical conditions.

People who suspect salmonellosis should be very cautious. The bacteria can be passed in feces for up to one month in adults, and seven weeks in children under five.

Cooking eggs thoroughly and washing cutting boards are not failsafe ways to prevent salmonella illness in your home. Also take care with other food, pets and people

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