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MEDICAL INSIGHTS: Salmonella and other forms of food poisoning

December 17, 2018

Salmonella is the name given to one type of bacteria known to cause gastrointestinal illness if contaminated foods are consumed by humans. Freezing or refrigerating will not kill the bacteria. Heating chicken to over 148 degrees fahrenheit should kill 99.9 percent of all salmonella.

The organism was first visualized by scientists 1880. The Centers for Disease Control/CDC has estimated that there are 1.2 million cases of this form of enteric disease in the USA yearly.Also 23,000 Americans are hospitalized annually and 450 deaths are reported per year in the U.S.

Salmonellosis is usually a self-limited disease not requiring treatment such as the need for antibiotics. In general, abdominal cramps with nausea, diarrhea fever and chills as well as muscle cramps may occur. Symptoms often begin within 12 to 72 hour after exposure and may last for up to four to seven days.

The bacteria may be carried in well-appearing turtles, lizards, frogs and domestic poultry. However salmonellosis is more common in the summer months and is one of the most common types of food poisoning often transmitted by pigs, beef and poultry.

However the disease can also be transmitted by contaminated alfa sprouts, cucumbers and pistachios. Contaminated kitchen knives and cutting boards may also serve as sources of transmission. It is important to thoroughly wash a cutting board after slicing beef of poultry before that same board is used to chop up vegetables and other foods. Hand sanitizer does not kill salmonella but good hand washing with soap and water is more protective.

Salmonella is a significant cause of illness worldwide and the source is often meat, poultry, milk or eggs. Salmonella can contaminate drinking water and can be spread from person to person.

Recently the USDA has announced a recall of up to 12 million pounds of contaminated raw beef products. So far over 250 people in 26 states have become ill. The affected beef was packed between July 26 and Sept. 7.

If the average cow produces around 440 pounds of meat products you can do the math and estimate how many head of cattle died to produce 12 million pounds of beef.

Thanksgiving outbreaks of salmonellosis have been attributed to handling contaminated turkey and it has been reported that Martha Stewart was symptomatic from the disease back in 2012.

Whereas there are several kinds of bacterial food poisoning but one which is caused by staphylococcus aureus is a bit different. In this cace the illness is attributed to a preformed toxin produced by the bacteria. Cooking will kill the bacteria but not the toxin and therefore symptoms often develop within less than one hour after eating the contaminated food. Nausea and vomiting and abdominal cramps are the main symptom.

Antibiotics are not helpful as this is a form of ingested toxin. Fortunately this is usually a self limited disease that does not last long . Staph food poisoning is not transmitted from person to person but some people are chronic carriers and thorough hand washing is important for all food handlers.

Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from a disease known as milk sickness. If milk or meat is consumed from a cow that fed on the white snakeroot plant then a dreadful disease results.The plant contains the toxin tremetol. The poison is not killed by pasteurization and there is no cure. Fortunately milk sickness is very rare in the U.S.

In summary, thorough hand washing is important in food preparation and it is important to know your food source. One of the best reasons not to eat raw cookie dough is to avoid salmonella which can be found in raw eggs. However, it is estimated that only about one in 20,000 eggs is contaminated. Take special precaution if you leave food out for Santa this Christmas eve.

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