Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well
Don’t Get Sick—Get Smart: Understanding and Preventing Salmonella
Janet Hackert, Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist
Salmonella in raw eggs is not unusual, but salmonella in tomatoes? Don’t get sick, get smart! Understanding the sources and spread of food-borne illness is a good first step to preventing it.
Salmonella is a bacteria that causes diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. According to the Partnership for Food Safety Education, it’s the most common cause of diarrhea in the United States, causing 1.4 million cases each year.
Salmonella’s presence in raw eggs is well known. It is why the only safe way to eat eggs is cooked or pasteurized.
Fresh fruits and vegetables can sometimes also be contaminated by salmonella bacteria in contaminated human and animal feces. If infected produce handlers have not washed their hands properly after using the restroom and before touching the fruit or vegetables, those bacteria can spread to the produce. And so we had the unsafe tomatoes.
When a food, like a tomato, is contaminated with salmonella, those bacteria can enter the food. Washing it does not make it safe. Bacteria are microscopic. Susan Seefeld, Public Affairs Technician with the Food and Drug Administration says, “Salmonella bacteria can enter through the open area where the stem has been removed. They can also enter through any cut or puncture in the tomato’s thin skin, even unseen microscopic ones.” So the safe thing to do is to follow that basic food safety rule: When in doubt, throw it out.
The tomato ‘scare’ of 2008 is winding down, but what happens next time? Symptoms from eating a food contaminated with salmonella usually show themselves 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness lasts 4-7 days. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should contact their physician, to be confirmed by medical test. The local health department should also be notified. If there is a problem with salmonella, or any other food-borne illness, authorities will warn the public to avoid the source. In the meantime, wash hands appropriately and cook foods well.
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009