Salmonella Food Poisoning (Salmonellosis)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

View Salmonella Outbreak Slideshow Pictures

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Salmonella Outbreak Pictures Slideshow

What causes Salmonella outbreaks? How does Salmonella spread?

Poultry, beef, milk, and eggs may contain Salmonella bacteria, since the bacteria live in the intestines of humans and animals. Thorough cooking of these foods destroys the bacteria.

Foods, including vegetables and fruits, may also be contaminated during handling or processing of the food, and this is another common source of outbreaks. For example, food may be contaminated by the feces of infected people or animals or from the unwashed hands of a person handling or preparing the food.

Small rodents such as hamsters, as well as baby chicks and ducklings, may also carry the bacteria, and contamination of food after handling these animals may also result in salmonellosis. Reptiles may also harbor Salmonella bacteria. In the 1970s, outbreaks were associated with baby turtles kept as pets. Further, the infection may be spread by contaminated surfaces (such as cutting boards) that have had contact with contaminated foods.

Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal. Over the past years, outbreaks of salmonellosis have been associated with a number of different foods, including chicken, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, ground beef, mangoes, peanut butter, and cantaloupe. These are just a few examples. An outbreak in February 2016 caused by the strain Salmonella muenchen was linked to contaminated alfalfa sprouts.

What are risk factors for Salmonella food poisoning?

Since foods contaminated with Salmonella are not obvious, anyone may consume contaminated foods. Owning pets such as small rodents, chicks, ducklings, turtles and some other reptiles, and some birds may increase the risk of coming in contact with Salmonella bacteria. People who are exposed to many people, such as those living in group housing, may have an increased risk. Children under 5 years of age have the highest reported incidence of infection.

People with medical conditions that lead to immune suppression are at risk for a more severe illness when they do become infected.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/3/2016

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