10 Essential Facts About Salmonella
Pistachios produced by Wonderful Pistachios have been linked to a multi-state salmonella outbreak. Here’s what you need to know about this bacteria, and what to do if you get it.
By Emily Willingham
Medically Reviewed by Chad Tewell, MD
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising that people stay away from recalled pistachios produced by the brand Wonderful Pistachios because they may be contaminated with salmonella.
At least 11 people in nine states have been infected with the bacteria, and at least two of those people were hospitalized, according to the CDC. The states involved are Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Virginia, and Washington.
Wonderful Pistachios, which is based in Lost Hills, California, voluntarily recalled a limited number of flavors and sizes of in-shell and shelled pistachios because they may be contaminated with salmonella. The pistachios were sold under the brand names Wonderful, Paramount Farms, and Trader Joe’s. They were sold nationwide and in Canada.
The potentially infected products can be identified by a 13-digit lot code located at the lower back or bottom panel of the package. The numbers are available on the company’s website.
Symptoms of salmonella poisoning, or salmonellosis, develop 12 to 72 hours after exposure and include:
- abdominal cramps
The symptoms can last four to seven days and resolve on their own with sufficient oral fluid intake, but very young or very old people, or those with weakened immune systems, can develop serious illness. Severe diarrhea, for example, can require hospitalization. According to the CDC, this type of bacteria, named after its discoverer, Dr. Daniel Elmer Salmon, is responsible for one million gastrointestinal illnesses each year in the United States, with 19,000 hospitalizations and almost 400 deaths. Many cases may go unreported.
How can you avoid becoming one of these million? Here are 10 essential facts you need to know about salmonella and avoiding contamination.
1. Be aware of what could be exposed to salmonella. The bacteria live in the intestines of animals, so anything that could be exposed to intestinal contents can be at risk of salmonella contamination, says Doug Powell, PhD, a former food science professor at Kansas State University who maintains a blog tracking food safety. One example: “I’ve got an herb garden in my backyard,” he says, “and I know that birds (poop) on it and that they’re (pooping) salmonella.” Indeed, some outbreaks around the world have not involved meat at all but instead have been associated with plants, including peanuts, spices, and a fruit-based candy. Unpasteurized foods, including unpasteurized milk, are also a risk.
2.Use thermometers. According to Dr. Powell, if consumers want to protect themselves, they should always use a meat thermometer when cooking meat. Noting that the USDA requires raw products to be labeled as raw, and that proper cooking temperatures be listed for safety, he says that most consumers won’t use thermometers. “They just guess,” Powell says. “Most people just throw (the food) in the microwave to warm it up (and) don’t carry around thermometers like I do.” The target temperature for poultry is 165 Fahrenheit (F), which the USDA says should be checked at the center of the meat — the thickest part.
3.Avoid cross-contamination. “Another risk,” he says, “is how much they’re handling (the meat) before it’s cooked.” Powell says that he urges people to “be the bug” and think about the surfaces that meat might touch during handling, and to keep things clean. “Think about where that bacteria is going to be,” he says. According to the CDC, prevention includes immediately washing any kitchen work surfaces and utensils that come in contact with raw meats with warm soap and water.
4.Pets can be a risk … and at risk. Because of the risk of contamination from exposure to fecal matter, pets like turtles, other reptiles, and baby chicks are particularly prone to being sources of salmonella infection. Regarding contact with chickens, which Powell says were the source of another recent U.S. outbreak, “You see a cute bird; I see a salmonella vector.” Dogs and cats can actually be infected, sometimes with severe and long-lasting symptoms, and can pass infection to humans.
5.Other outbreaks have also involved raw, stuffed chicken products. According to Powell’s blog, several other salmonella outbreaks have been traced to chicken products like those in the current recall. Powell thinks that products like these should be cooked for the consumer. “The consumer is not the critical control point,” he says.
6.Even the very healthy are not immune to hospitalization. Last year, Oakland A’s pitcher Sonny Gray became gravely ill from a recent bout with salmonella and had to be hospitalized. According to reports, his fever reached 103 F, and he required considerable fluid replacement.
7.Freezing does not kill salmonella. Powell says that freezing does not knock out the microbes — it just shuts them down temporarily. “Once you warm (the food) up,” he says, “they go to town.”
8.Microwaves and salmonella may not mix. The heat in a microwave isn’t very well controlled, according to Powell. Within the food, microwaves “just give tremendously ridiculous differences in heat,” he says, which can mean uneven temperatures and places for the bacteria to persist.
9.There’s a reason certain places are ground zero for salmonella outbreaks.
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