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Salmonella food poisoning

There are thousands of admissions to hospital a year in the UK due to salmonella food poisoning. 

Salmonella bacteria are a well-known cause of food poisoning, but can also cause typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever.

There are more than 2,500 different strains of salmonella, including Salmonella Kentucky and Salmonella Newport.

You cannot tell if food is infected with salmonella by looking at it or smelling it.

Salmonella needs to be kept at bay with good hygiene, careful food preparation and thorough cooking.

Sources of salmonella

Salmonella bacteria can be found in raw meat and poultry. Infection can also come from eggs and unpasteurised milk. Salmonella also spreads by eating food contaminated by faeces (poo) of infected people or animals.

Cross-contamination is also possible in kitchens and fridges, often between raw and cooked food.

Changing nappies without washing hands afterwards can spread salmonella, as can contact with some pets, especially reptiles and amphibians.

Vegetables, fruit and shellfish, can be contaminated by contact with manure in soil or sewage in water.

In 2012, the consumer group Which?tested 192 supermarket whole chickens and chicken portions. Researchers found 1.5% tested positive for salmonella.

Who is at risk of salmonella?

Anyone can get salmonella poisoning, but the risks are greater for young children and the elderly. They have a far greater chance of becoming severely ill from exposure to salmonella.

Salmonella infection symptoms include:

In most people these will last between around four to seven days and do not need any treatment.

Salmonella infection treatment

  • Diarrhoea and vomiting can lead to fluid loss and dehydration. This can be life-threatening and may require medical attention in some cases.
  • Drink plenty of liquid but try to limit tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, and alcohol. Dilute sugary drinks.
  • An over-the-counter painkiller such as paracetamol can help with pain.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed for severe cases of salmonella poisoning.
  • Stay away from work or school for 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped. Employers need to be told about salmonella if you work with vulnerable groups like as the elderly, very young, people in poor health or if you work in a food industry.

Preventing salmonella

Good hygiene in the kitchen and washing hands regularly is essential for preventing salmonella infection. Public Health England (PHE) offers these prevention tips:

  • Keep cooked food away from raw food. Store raw food below cooked or ready-to-eat food in the fridge to avoid contamination.
  • Wash raw fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Cook all food, especially meat, thoroughly so that it is piping hot.
  • Keep all kitchen surfaces and equipment including knives, chopping boards, and dish-cloths clean.
  • When camping or hiking, don't drink untreated water from lakes, rivers or streams.
  • Don't keep reptiles or amphibians in homes with children under five or someone with a weakened immune system.

Extra hygiene measures are needed if someone living with you gets salmonella. Public Health England advises washing their dirty clothes, bedding and towels on the hottest cycle. Clean toilet seats, toilet bowls, flush handles, taps and basins with detergent, hot water, and disinfectant.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on December 21, 2017

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