How to prevent salmonella infection in the kitchen

Breakfast charcuterie board with eggs and meat
How can you prevent salmonella infection?
Bacteria on raw foods don’t always have to make you sick!

The key to preventing illness — at home, in a restaurant, on a picnic, or anywhere else — is to prevent the bacteria from growing to high levels and to destroy the bacteria through cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature.

To avoid salmonellosis, follow these guidelines for safe food preparation:

CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
  • Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
SEPARATE: Don’t cross-contaminate
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
  • If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Always wash cutting boards, dishes, countertops, and utensils with hot soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
COOK: Cook to safe temperatures

Use a clean food thermometer when measuring the internal temperature of meat, poultry, casseroles, and other foods to make sure they have reached a safe minimum internal temperature:

  • Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
  • Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Stuffed poultry is not recommended. Cook stuffing separately to 165 degrees F.
  • Cook egg dishes & casseroles to 160 degrees F.
  • Fish should reach 145 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating.
  • Reheat other leftovers thoroughly to at least 165 degrees F.
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CHOOSE ALTERNATIVES: Use pasteurized eggs

Use pasteurized eggs or liquid egg product to prepare recipes for homemade foods that may not require complete cooking. Other options include cooking the eggs thoroughly, or omitting the raw egg entirely.

Raw egg alert
  1. Caesar salad dressing
  2. Custards
  3. Eggnog
  4. French toast
  5. Frosting
  6. Hollandaise sauce
  7. Homemade ice cream
  8. Mayonnaise
  9. Mousses
  10. Protein shakes
  11. Raw cookie dough
CHILL: Refrigerate promptly
  • Keep food safe at home, refrigerate promptly and properly. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within 2 hours (1 hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees F).
  • Freezers should register 0 degrees F or below and refrigerators 40 degrees F or below.
  • Thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Foods should not be thawed at room temperature. Foods thawed in the microwave or in cold water must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature immediately after thawing.
  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
OTHER: More things to consider

It’s not always possible to prevent salmonellosis, because food may be contaminated by an infected food handler. Even vegetables, fruits and other types of foods can be contaminated. Check out the CDC reports of Selected Salmonella Outbreak Investigations to find out the latest sources of contamination.

About salmonella infections

Salmonellosis — an infection with bacteria called Salmonella — has been known to be a common cause of food poisoning for more than a hundred years.

Infants, elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness.

Multitasking mom holding a baby while cleaning the kitchen counter
Photo by monkeybusiness/Envato
What are the signs & symptoms of Salmonella infections?

Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.

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However, in some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella can be fatal unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. (Typhoid fever, a more serious disease caused by Salmonella Typhi, is not common in the United States, but frequently occurs in developing countries.)

How do people get Salmonella?

Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs — but any food, including vegetables, may become contaminated, though thorough cooking kills Salmonella.

Symptoms of salmonella infections

  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps

Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler — for example, one who did not wash hands properly with soap after using the bathroom.

Salmonella may also be found in the feces of some pets, especially those with diarrhea, and people can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with pets or pet feces.

Reptiles, such as turtles, lizards, and snakes, are particularly likely to harbor Salmonella in their intestinal tracts, and many chicks and young birds carry Salmonella in their feces. People should always wash their hands immediately after handling a reptile or bird, even if the animal is healthy. Adults should also assure that children wash their hands after handling a reptile or bird, or after touching its environment.

How can Salmonella infections be diagnosed?

Many different kinds of illnesses can cause diarrhea, fever, or abdominal cramps. Determining that Salmonella is the cause of the illness depends on laboratory tests that identify Salmonella in the stool of an infected person. Once Salmonella has been identified, further testing can determine its specific type.

How can Salmonella infections be treated?

Salmonella gastrointestinal infections usually resolve in 5-7 days and most do not require treatment other than oral fluids. People with severe diarrhea may require rehydration with intravenous fluids.

Antibiotic therapy can prolong the duration of excretion of non-typhoidal Salmonella, and is recommended only for patients with severe illness (e.g., those with severe diarrhea, high fever, bloodstream infection, or who need hospitalization) or those at risk of severe disease or complications, including young infants, older adults (over 65 years old) and immunocompromised people.

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Antibiotic resistance is increasing among some Salmonella bacteria; therefore, susceptibility testing can help guide appropriate therapy. Choices for antibiotic therapy for severe infections include fluoroquinolones, third-generation cephalosporins, and ampicillin (for susceptible infections).

How common is Salmonellosis?

Every year, approximately 42,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be twenty-nine or more times greater. There are many different kinds of Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella serotype Typhimurium and Salmonella serotype Enteritidis are the most common in the United States. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter.

Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is higher than the rate in all other people. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. It is estimated that approximately 400 people die each year with acute salmonellosis.

Are there long-term consequences to a Salmonella infection?

People with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of people with Salmonella develop pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called reactive arthritis. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis which is difficult to treat. (Antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis.)

If you think that you or your child has a Salmonella infection, contact your health care provider immediately.

Why the name Salmonella? The bacteria was discovered in 1885 by scientist Theobald Smith, who working as a research lab assistant in the Veterinary Division of the US Department of Agriculture. The administrator of the USDA was veterinary pathologist Daniel Elmer Salmon, for whom the  rod-shaped, Gram-negative bacteria was named.

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