With all the talk about the deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated this week that E. coli isn’t the biggest food borne illness in the U.S.—it's salmonella.
The CDC stated that while rates of several types of food borne illness—including E. coli—have been falling over the past 15 years, salmonella infections have risen 10 percent. "There are about 50 million people each year who become sick from food in the U.S. That's about one in six Americans," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said during a press conference earlier this week. He also stated that 128,000 people are hospitalized and about 3,000 die from food borne illnesses each year.
So I hear you asking, "OK, so what is salmonella?"
Salmonella is an infection with bacteria that is passed from the feces of people or animals to other people or other animals. This bacterium is also found in our foods.
People who have been infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. But in some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that you might have to be hospitalized. In these patients, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
There are things that you can do to reduce your risk:
Treat raw meats like toxic material: It's really no joke. When you are handling raw chicken and other meat, assume that they all have bacteria on them. So don't let them contaminate counter tops or cutting boards and keep them away from fruits and vegetables. And WASH everything thoroughly afterwards.
Don't wash meat: While your fruits and veggies should be washed, meat and poultry should never be washed—and make sure your meat is cooked all the way through.
But it's also important to understand how our food is farmed also plays huge role in why this rise in salmonella is happening. HealthDay reported:
These infections often spring from livestock, Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University in New York City said. "And we create the problem by the way the animals are bred and fed," he said. "We generate the salmonella problem with the way we raise chickens." "They are compressed in cages standing in their own poop," Siegel said. "They are raised in squalid conditions that breed salmonella."
The only way to effectively decrease salmonella infection is to vaccinate chickens against the bacteria and pasteurize eggs, he said.
In addition, cattle are fed grain, which breeds bacteria such as E. coli, he added. On top of that, livestock are often given vast amounts of antibiotics, which can create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, he said.
Siegel noted that bacterial contamination of produce usually comes from animal waste, which then contaminates water used to irrigate fruits and vegetables.
"It's easy to teach people how to barbecue properly, but how about getting the bugs out of the meat in the first place?" he said.
That's a really good point.
Learn more about Salmonella here.
(Photo: Ho New/Reuters)