Everybody knows somebody who’s lived through salmonella poisoning. Or, at the very least, somebody who knows somebody. It’s one of those names that gets thrown around a lot and used to scare you into cooking your chicken properly.
But what is salmonella, exactly? How can you catch it? How serious is an infection? We know so much about keeping ourselves healthy, but it seems like very few people actually know what salmonella is, and to stop it in their cooking.
We take a closer look at one of the most common forms of food poisoning, and learn how you can protect yourself today!
What Salmonella Poisoning Is
Salmonella is such a common cause of food poisoning, and most people call getting sick from it “getting salmonella.” Did you know that this is actually wrong? Salmonella is actually the name of the bacterium. When you get an infection from it, it’s actually referred to as “salmonellosis.”
What To Know About Salmonella
Salmonella is one of the most widespread causes of food poisoning in the United States and the rest of the world. It’s a bacteria that lives in the intestines of dozens of species of animals, both domestic and wild. Anything from livestock to your pet dog can carry it. Even humans, to be quite frank.
But the two animals that are most important to us for purposes of this article are pigs and chickens. These are two animals that are commonly killed and processed for food. They’re also prone to soiling themselves and spending their downtime covered in it.
There’s nothing salmonella loves more than a good, smelly pile of feces. That’s why the first thing anybody will tell you is to wash your pork and poultry. The reason for this is simple: as many steps as your local grocer might take to clean off their meat, mistakes happen. And when the mistake is salmonella poisoning, the results can be disastrous.
What Salmonella Does
Not to be too alarming, but salmonella is one of the worse ways to get diarrhea. Salmonella signs start with vomiting, nausea, and loose stools. This can be accompanied by a fever, which can become more serious if left untreated.
Salmonella symptoms can also include:
- stomach cramps
- loss of appetite
- bloody diarrhea
- muscle pains
One of the more insidious problems with salmonella is that symptoms don’t start immediately after you’ve eaten. In fact, they usually become apparent within 12 to 72 hours after infection.
But the truly dangerous part of salmonella infection is in how long it takes to work through one. As a rule, this kind of poisoning lasts for four to seven days. And seven days is not uncommon. Even worse than this, bowel habits may be so badly affected by your infection that they take several months to return to normal.
Finally, there are also rare cases where salmonella can lead to something known as reactive arthritis. This is a kind of joint pain that lasts anywhere from a few months to several years, and could eventually result in permanent and chronic arthritis.
How To Avoid It
Salmonella is actually simple to protect against. There are straightforward steps you can take in your own home to protect against it, and they work almost flawlessly when used as habits.
- Always remember to cook poultry, pork, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly.
- If foods contain raw eggs or unpasteurized milk, specifically, try to avoid them.
- Wash everything in your kitchen, thoroughly. Wash your hands. Scrub your cutting boards and work surfaces. Knives, spoons, ladles and other utensils go right into the soapy water immediately after touching raw meat.
- Never let raw meat make contact with foods that don’t require cooking. This is known as cross-contamination and can be very serious.
Salmonella, like many other bacteria, grows at room temperature. One of the best bets you can make when it comes to protecting against it is always to refrigerate your foods. As a rule, never leave foods out of the fridge for more than two hours. This means making the tough call and throwing out foods when they’ve been left out, and you’ve lost track of time. Remember, it’s always better to waste money on a vacuum packed chicken breast than spend the night in the hospital with a massive fever.
The Smell Test
Of course, meat and other food that has spoiled tends to smell noticeably bad. For many years, people have used this as an indicator that the food they’re about to eat isn’t safe for consumption.
The truth is, however, that smelling food to check for poison is old-fashioned and ineffective. Ground pork can have just as bad a case of salmonella when it smells fine as it does when it stinks. And while you should never eat meat that smells bad, this isn’t a good enough test to guarantee you won’t get salmonella from meat that smells great.
The Center for Disease Control issues up-to-date reports of salmonella outbreaks. These include where they occurred, and what food they were related to. You’d be safer following this information than your nose in more cases than not.
Salmonella: Be Prepared
There’s a reason salmonella poisoning has the reputation it does. It’s the first thing people warn you about when your food looks underdone because the consequences of an infection can be severe (to say the least).
Luckily for you, there are easy-to-follow steps you can take to protect against this kind of catastrophe.
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