Everything You Need to Know About Salmonella

You've heard about this common bacteria on the news, but do you know what causes it?

Salmonella bacterium drawn on the chicken eggsShutterstock / Svetlana Zhukova

You usually see salmonella making headlines when an outbreak occurs. (Please check your eggs!) But how does this food-borne bacteria get into our meals–and what can we do about it? We’ve got the lowdown to help keep you and your family safe.

If you’re curious, discover how long can eggs sit out!

What is salmonella, exactly?

It’s a type of bacteria responsible for causing food poisoning in roughly 1.2 million people every year, and is the second most common cause of food poisoning in the U.S. The most recent outbreak was connected to contaminated eggs, but according to Sana Mujahid, Ph.D., manager of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports, it has also tainted peanut butter, dried coconut and dietary supplements. Most commonly, the outbreaks occur thanks to contaminated eggs, meat and poultry, but it can also spread from person to person.

Pro tip: If you’re feeling a little under the weather, take a break from cooking until you’re better.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

The symptoms of salmonella poisoning normally kick in between 12 to 72 hours after eating something contaminated. (That means if you start to feel queasy right after eating, it’s likely not salmonella to blame.) The first symptom is usually diarrhea, but abdominal pain and fever are also common. You can expect these to last a few days, and make sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated!

While the most recent outbreak made 23 people sick, with six going to the hospital, salmonella usually passes on its own with adequate fluids and electrolytes.

How can I avoid it?

Safe kitchen practices in your home are a great way to start. Make sure you wash your hands regularly and prevent cross-contamination with your tools. You also want to adequately cook your meats and eggs to food-safe temperatures. To be on the safe side, make sure your eggs are pasteurized, which kills the bacteria, when you’re cooking a runny egg dish like eggs benedict.

In the event of a recall, you can generally return food to the store where you purchased it as well.

Jacqueline Weiss
Jacqueline is a blogger and writer, passionate about sharing the latest in helpful tips and trends in food and cooking. In her spare time, you’ll find her trying new restaurants and experimenting in the kitchen.