What Is Salmonella, Anyway?
A moment of silence for the unspeakable number of eggs that were likely cast aside in the trash this week. That's because last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Indiana-based company Rose Acre Farms recalled over 200 million eggs after tracing a salmonella outbreak to one of its North Carolina farms.
The eggs, which were distributed to nine total states, "were likely connected to 22 reported cases of salmonella infections" according to The New York Times.
Rose Acre Farms calls itself second-largest egg producer in the United States, with three million hens that produce 2.3 million eggs a day, so the whole concept is a little dizzying. But before you forsake eggs for good, let’s take a moment to go over the facts.
While we read frantic headlines about salmonella thinking of an illness, it’s actually the name of the bacteria that causes salmonellosis (or salmonella infection). Both terms get their namesake from an American scientist named (get this) Dr. Daniel E. Salmon, who discovered the bacteria with research assistant Theobald Smith.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.2 million Americans a year contract salmonellosis. Though it can happen from contact with pets, about 1 million of those cases are caused by food.
The mere mention of foodborne illnesses may make you jump and your stomach turn, and you’re not the only one. There’s a reason why any food-tainted headlines seem both frequent and panicky—the concept of unknowingly ingesting something dangerous seems overwhelming when you think about the fact that you eat three meals a day. And the reason you hear extra buzz about salmonella infections are because it’s one of the most common foodborne illnesses.
Not only that, but the number of salmonellosis outbreaks has been increasing over the years, according to Steven Kronenberg, trial attorney at The Veen Firm, PC. “Many people think that salmonella is primarily a risk arising from undercooked chicken,” Kronenberg, who focuses his practice on food safety, told Extra Crispy. “While that is one source of infection, there are many others.”
Those sources include other kinds of uncooked meat, contaminated water, raw milk, fresh produce, and, of course, raw eggs.
Luckily, when salmonella infection is caught, it’s typically very treatable—and most people only need fluids to recover, often in just a few days. Others, however, need antibiotics, and the CDC says that 23,000 Americans are hospitalized for salmonella with 450 deaths annually, so it’s still something to watch out for.
If you’ve been reading the headlines and suddenly realizing you’ve been feeling iffy for a few weeks now, don’t worry—it’s not because you ate some kind of gross chicken last month. “Whereas other foodborne germs, such as E. coli and listeria, may take days or even weeks for symptoms to show, salmonella symptoms may appear after only a few hours and may last for several days,” explained Kronenberg.
The symptoms include nausea, chills, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, and diarrhea, for starters. Fun, huh? However, with a little prep, it’s not too hard to prevent. While it’s undeniable that some things happen in life from pure bad luck, many cases of salmonella infection can be avoided by introducing a few precautionary routines. Kronenberg advises washing your hands. Yeah, yeah, we’ve all been told to wash our hands practically since we were born—but when you’re handling something like raw produce, it’s hard to remember that something as innocuous as an apple can be laden with bacteria.
Additionally, be careful while you’re cooking. “[Don’t] handle raw and cooked foods with the same cookware,” Kronenberg advised. “Washing fresh produce with cold water may also reduce the risk of illness.”
But this is Extra Crispy, and we need to focus on the most important element of all: how to avoid salmonella while making a kick-ass breakfast. Rachel Bassler, senior manager of nutrition communications at the Egg Nutrition Center, suggests breaking out the food thermometer if you want to be extra careful in light of the arguably unsettling egg news.
“Cooking eggs to temperatures of 160 degrees or above—or until the yolk is firm or fully cooked—will kill salmonella and reduce risk of food poisoning,” Bassler told Extra Crispy.