A strain of salmonella that’s resistant to many commonly used antibiotics has found its way into the food supply and is making people sick.
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Salmonella is a bacteria that causes food poisoning – in this case it’s the strain Salmonella infantis, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is linking it to raw chicken products. “This particular strain is one that has been increasing over the last 10 years,” says Frank Esper, MD, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases.
Contamination can happen at any stage of food production, from farm to store, Dr. Esper says, so it’s often hard to pinpoint the source of these types of foodborne illness outbreaks.
People who eat foods contaminated with salmonella may get stomach pain, severe diarrhea and vomiting that lasts four to seven days.
Because salmonella doesn’t affect the taste, smell or appearance of food, you can’t exactly tell when something’s contaminated. But don’t be too alarmed — your risk of getting sick with salmonella poisoning is minimal if you take the necessary precautions to ensure that your food is properly prepared and stored.
The CDC recommends these precautions:
- Wash your hands both before and after preparing food.
- Keep uncooked meats separate from produce, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
- Wash cutting boards, utensils and counters with warm soapy water after dealing with raw chicken.
- Don’t wash raw chicken, as germs could spread to other foods and kitchen surfaces.
- Make sure chicken is cooked to 165 degrees all the way through (not just on the surface). This will kill most, if not all, of the bacteria that could cause disease.
- Don’t eat food that’s been left out for longer than two hours.
- People who have salmonella shouldn’t prepare food or pour water for others until their symptoms resolve and they have follow-up testing that is negative.
Is it salmonella or stomach flu?
It’s not always obvious when people have salmonella poisoning, as the symptoms closely resemble those of stomach bugs, such as:
“I would say that the most common difference with bacterial infection with salmonella versus viral gastroenteritis is the amount of blood and mucous in the stool as well as the amount of debilitation – people with salmonella tend to just be sicker,” Dr. Esper explains. “If someone has more watery diarrhea that would be stomach flu.”
In many cases, the body doesn’t actually need antibiotics to fight salmonella, Dr. Esper says. But if you’re unable to keep down any fluids, you’re at risk for dehydration. And if you’re younger than five (especially babies under 3 months of age), older than 65 of have a weakened immune system, you may be at risk for severe disease.
“We certainly recommend that everyone who thinks they might have salmonella poisoning at least talk to a medical professional and let us know what’s going on, even if they don’t need to be seen,” Dr. Esper says. “Sometimes, you just needs some good old rest and plenty of hydration.”