- More than 206 million eggs are being recalled from supermarkets because they may have been contaminated with salmonella.
- Salmonella infections sicken 1.2 million people in the US every year, leading to about 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths.
- Infections are most common in young children and most severe among infants, older people, and people with weakened immune systems.
- Most people get better in four to seven days with rest and rehydration, but some severe cases require antibiotics.
Every year in the US, about 1 million people get salmonella infections from food that has been contaminated by one of the many kinds of salmonella bacteria.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration announced a recall of more than 206 million eggs in supermarkets and grocery chains including Food Lion and Walmart. So far, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that there have been at least 35 illnesses and 11 hospitalizations related to the outbreak. (You can check whether your eggs have been recalled on the FDA website.)
Eggs and dairy products are one of the most common sources of the foodborne illness, but infections with salmonella – which cause an illness known as salmonellosis – also come from eating poultry, meat, fruits, vegetables, spices, and nuts, among other things. In April, an outbreak linked to the herbal supplement kratom sickened at least 132 people in 38 states.
Some people also get sick by interacting with animals, especially reptiles, amphibians, and birds.
How people get salmonella and how the infection can be treated
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, there are roughly 1.2 million cases of salmonella infections each year in the US, with an annual average of 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths.
Children, especially those under 5, are at the highest risk, and illnesses caused by these infections are most severe for infants, older people, and anyone with a weakened immune system.
A person can get sick from eating food that has been contaminated by one of 2,300 types of salmonella bacteria. The two most common types found in the US, Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella typhimurium, account for about half of human infections, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
The bacteria live in the intestinal tract of animals. When animal faeces contaminate meat, poultry, or dairy products, the bacteria spread. Cross-contamination can occur when produce or other foods come into contact with the bacteria.
Most people who get sick develop diarrhoea, a fever, and abdominal cramps within three days, and the illness can last for about four to seven days. Many recover without treatment, aside from rest and rehydration, though it can take several months for bowel movements to normalize.
In particularly severe cases, diarrhoea can get bad enough that warrants hospitalisation. If the infection spreads from the intestines into the bloodstream, it can be fatal without antibiotic treatment. A small number of cases can also cause joint pain from reactive arthritis that can last for months or years.
How to prevent infection
Since salmonella infections can be severe, food-safety experts recommend a variety of steps to prevent them.
Animal products should be kept separate in grocery carts and refrigerators and should be cooked to safe temperatures to kill pathogenic bacteria – according to the USDA, steaks, chops, and roasts should reach a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and ground meat should reach 160 degrees. For poultry, it’s 165, and for egg dishes, it’s 160.
Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours, or one hour in very hot conditions.
Thoroughly washing your hands and cleaning counters and utensils are also important practices to help prevent foodborne illnesses. Since sponges and cloth towels can often become hotbeds of bacteria, the USDA recommends using paper towels to clean surfaces that have come into contact with animal products.
If you do get sick, your doctor can determine whether your illness was caused by salmonella or another bacteria.
To find out whether any eggs in your refrigerator are being recalled, the FDA has a full list of egg brands affected.