Salmonella poisoning is, by far, the cause of most cases of food poisoning in America. That's more than 1.4 million cases of food poisoning a year, including more than 400 deaths from salmonella poisoning.
While there are more than 2,300 types of salmonella, two types, Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium, are responsible for half of these cases. Despite its name, salmonella actually has nothing to with salmon—the bacteria is named after the scientist who first discovered it in 1885.
Where Salmonella Is Found
Salmonella bacteria are found in the intestinal tracts and feces of animals and people, but water, soil, insects, and live animals also can carry the bacteria. Raw eggs and poultry products are known to carry the salmonella bacteria naturally.
Other sources of salmonella include meat, fish, shellfish, and milk. Cooked custards and sauces such as pastry cream also are potential sources of salmonella poisoning, as is tofu and other foods that are high in protein. In addition, fresh produce like melons, tomatoes, lettuce, and sprouts can carry salmonella.
Salmonella bacteria can be transmitted either through foods in which the bacteria naturally occur or via cross-contamination. For this reason, any food can be a potential salmonella hazard if it is not handled properly.
Salmonella bacteria are killed when cooked, but foods like the fresh produce items listed above can be even more dangerous since they are not generally cooked before serving them. That's why proper hygiene and good food-handling techniques are so important in preventing the transmission of salmonella.
Salmonellosis, an infection caused by salmonella bacteria, is characterized by abdominal cramps, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever, and headache. Symptoms usually appear six to 48 hours after eating. The illness can last a day or two, and sometimes longer. In some cases, people who've suffered from salmonella poisoning can experience joint pain and bowel discomfort for three to four weeks after they first got sick.
Good food-handling practices—properly refrigerating food, washing hands and utensils, avoiding cross-contamination—can minimize the risk of salmonella. Cooking food to temperatures of 165 F for at least 15 seconds will kill the bacteria, but, as discussed above, this isn't always possible, which is why safe food-handling practices are so important in preventing salmonella poisoning. Also, it's a good idea to be especially careful when preparing poultry products. If you're preparing recipes that call for raw eggs, consider using pasteurized eggs.
Other Food-Borne Pathogens
Salmonella is not the only foodborne illness that can make you very sick. Here are more bacterial infections to watch out for.