How to Recognize and Avoid Salmonella

Tips to Recognize and Avoid Salmonella Poisoning

Preparing raw chicken for roasting
Darren Muir/Stocksy United

Salmonella poisoning leads to an infection known as Salmonellosis. Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of Salmonella poisoning are reported in the United States. Since many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be more than 30 times greater. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter.

Children are the most likely to get Salmonella poisoning. Young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk.

Approximately 600 people die every year from acute salmonellosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella Poisoning

Symptoms typically show up 12 to 72 hours after infection, last 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. The most common symptoms are:

  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • abdominal cramps

Diarrhea may get so severe the victim needs to be hospitalized. In these cases, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines through the bloodstream to other body sites, which can cause death unless the victim is treated promptly with antibiotics.

Treatment of Salmonella Poisoning

Salmonella infections usually get better without treatment in 5-7 days. Treatment is necessary if the victim becomes severely dehydrated or the infection spreads through the blood. Victims of severe diarrhea may need intravenous fluids. Severe cases may get antibiotics.

Victims with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are completely normal.

A small number of victims of Salmonella poisoning will go on to develop pains in the joints, eye irritation, and painful urination. Called Reiter's syndrome, it can last for months or years and can lead to chronic arthritis. Antibiotic treatment doesn't change whether or not the victim later develops arthritis.

Avoiding Salmonella Poisoning

There is no vaccine for Salmonella. Follow these steps to avoid Salmonella infections:

  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly before eating. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw unpasteurized milk. Raw eggs may be unrecognized in some foods such as homemade hollandaise sauce, Caesar, and other homemade salad dressings, tiramisu, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, cookie dough, and frostings.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking. Poultry and meat, including hamburgers, should be well-cooked, not pink in the middle.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Thoroughly wash produce before consuming.
  • Peel and discard outer leaves or rinds of fruits and vegetables.
  • Scrub hearty vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, if you want to eat the skin.
  • Keep refrigerators clean and cold.
  • Cover and refrigerate produce you have cut.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing diapers, and before preparing food.
  • Read and follow label instructions such as "Keep Refrigerated" or "Use By" (a certain date).
  • Keep prepared fruit salads or other cut produce items in the refrigerator until just before serving. Discard cut produce items if they have been out of the refrigerator for more than four hours.
  • Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles or birds, or after contact with pet feces.
  • Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or people with decreased immune systems. Do not keep reptiles in the same home as an infant or someone with a decreased immune system.
  • Don't work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
  • People who have salmonellosis should not prepare food or pour water for others until they have been shown to no longer be carrying the Salmonella bacterium.
  • Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.

It is important for the public health department to know about cases of salmonellosis. It is important for clinical laboratories to send isolates of Salmonella to the City, County, or State Public Health Laboratories so the specific type can be determined and compared with other Salmonella in the community. If many cases occur at the same time, it may mean that a restaurant, food or water supply has a problem which needs correction by the public health department. Anyone concerned about the possibility of Salmonella infection should seek medical care.


"Salmonella FAQ." 21 May 2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC. 14 Jul 2008

"Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables." Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. Ohio State University. 14 Jul 2008