An Alabama Cooperative Extension System food safety
specialist says that the recent outbreak of salmonella that, according to one news account, has possibly affected
more than 80 people in Athens this week is not only a reminder of the insidious
nature of the potentially deadly pathogen but also why people should take proactive
steps to protect themselves from exposure.
While health officials are still uncertain of the cause of
these recent outbreaks, the source appears to be the annual Bean Day Lunch, a
fundraising event held on behalf of the Foundation on Aging, according to a
report posted Oct. 8 on al.com.
Food safety specialist Dr. Jean Weese, an Auburn University
professor of poultry science who heads Alabama Extension’s food safety team,
says Salmonella is insidious in terms of how readily it can infect food and
One of the common sources of foodborne illness in the United
States, salmonella is the name of a group of bacteria found in the intestines
of animals. However, when the excreta of
the animals get in the soil, bacteria can be carried to almost any food, Weese
Water can also be contaminated with salmonella.
“We have seen salmonella outbreaks related to all types of
foods and animals,” Weese says. “We commonly think of chickens and eggs as the
source of salmonella food contamination, but the truth is that we’ve seen
outbreaks in everything from peanut butter to pet shop turtles.”
Symptoms typically last 4 to 7, days and most people recover
without treatment. However, the bacteria can cause serious illness among older
adults, infants and people with chronic diseases, according to Weese.
There are several effective ways to reduce the risk of
exposure to these bacteria, starting with adequate heating.
“Salmonella is killed by heat treatments, such as cooking
and pasteurization,” Weese says, adding that this is the reason why undercooked
chicken, eggs and ground meat should be avoided.
Cross-contamination, typically during food preparation, is a
major source of salmonella contamination and may prove to be the cause of the recent
outbreak in Athens, according to Weese.
“Washing a raw chicken in the sink is not a good idea, which
may result in both a contaminated chicken and sink,” she says.
Instead, Weese recommends taking fresh chicken out of the
package and cooking it without washing it.
“Packaged chicken at the grocery story has been washed many
times before it arrives at the store,” Weese says.
Any wash basin or surface that has been exposed to raw
chicken should be sanitized before any other food comes into contact with it.
“This can be done with a sanitizing cloth, or you can make
your own sanitizer by mixing 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach with a gallon of
water,” Weese says.
Because this solution loses its strength over time, a new
solution should be mixed at least weekly or even more frequently, especially if
it is not kept in a capped container.
“People with compromised immune systems, such as diabetic,
cancer or AIDS patients, should be especially mindful of these safety practices
and also of the foods they consume.
“If you’re at a restaurant and employees don’t appear to be
handling or serving the food correctly, you shouldn’t eat there,” Weese says. “While
it may sound simple and direct, this advice may save your life.”
There are many different types of salmonella, according to
Weese. The most common types in the United
States are Salmonella typhimurium and
Salmonella enteritidis. But many other
serotypes cause illness, including Salmonella
typhi, the organism that causes typhoid fever.
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