Salmonella is in the news again.
The persistent pathogen made headlines last month with the recall of 1,200 pounds of pistachio nuts (Pistachio Halves ‘n Pieces). The recall came on the heels of another one two weeks earlier, when Nu-Tea Company Ltd. of Abbotsford, British Columbia recalled its latest batch of Organic Lemon Hibiscus Green Rooibos Herbal Tea.
The most recent salmonella headlines concerned—of all things—African dwarf frogs being kept as pets by children. It turns out the critters can harbor Salmonella typhimurium. The salmonella strain was traced to a common breeding facility in Madera County, California.
Salmonella, a genus of enterobacteria, is among the most common food pathogens. It’s responsible for about 40,000 cases of food poisoning per year, and that’s just in the United States. The real figure, in fact, is much higher—most people affected don’t seek medical attention, so the illness is chronically underreported every year.
The symptoms of salmonellosis (as the infection is called) include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. These symptoms generally don’t require hospitalization and dissipate within a week if left untreated. This doesn’t mean the sickness should be taken lightly—especially by anyone with a weak immune system. For young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with HIV, the pathogen can cause serious problems and, in rare cases, can even result in death.
Salmonella contamination (and other cases of bacterial food poisoning) is often the result of poor kitchen hygiene. Proper storage, handling and cooking at home and in restaurants and other food establishments are the best ways to prevent the next outbreak. Food handlers and managers have to get food handler certification to show they’ve received the proper food safety training to prevent outbreaks.
If you get certified, you’ll learn all about the specifics of food safety. But until then, here are six safeguards against salmonella to remember when handling food:
- Separate raw meat from other foods in your grocery cart, in your grocery bags and in your refrigerator.
- Watch for drippings from raw meat. Keep meat in its own plastic bag when you’re bringing it home from the store and when you store it in the fridge at home. Also watch for drippings that can contaminate cutting boards, utensils, dishes or kitchen surfaces.
- Use separate cutting boards for vegetables and raw meat. Plastic cutting boards are best for raw meat because wood can harbor bacteria much more easily. To keep these areas bacteria-free, use a bleach solution containing 1 teaspoon per gallon of warm water to scrub the areas.
- Always be sure to wash your hands to prevent cross contamination, particularly when handling eggs, poultry and raw meat. Dry your hands with clean towels—using a dirty towel (or apron) defeats the purpose of washing in the first place.
- Make sure you thaw and cook your meat the right way. Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, not the counter-top. Poultry must be completely thawed before cooking and must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Eggs should be heated to 150 degrees. Keep leftovers and other pre-cooked foods within the “safe zone” to minimize bacterial growth. Refrigerate or throw out food within two hours after cooking.
- Keep your fingernails short and clean. This precaution is easy to overlook, but if you work in a commercial kitchen or restaurant it’s important that you forgo the movie star nails—they can harbor bacteria even after you’ve washed with hot, soapy water.