Salmonella are a family of bacteria that cause food poisoning. For most people, food poisoning is a nuisance. It may cause nausea, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea that last for a few days. If your pregnant, salmonella food poisoning can be more serious. You may be more likely to become dehydrated. A severe case of salmonella food poisoning can get into your bloodstream and might affect your baby.
A barbecue or cookout can be an open invitation to salmonella bacteria. The biggest culprits are undercooked meats, undercooked eggs, and salads. What you need to know about salmonella food poisoning is how it spreads, how you can prevent it, and what to do if you get it.
How Salmonella Bacteria Cause Infections
Salmonella bacteria infect both people and animals. Once there is an infection, the bacteria live in the digestive tract and leave the body through the stools. Infected stools can infect plants and water. Infections can spread when a person or animal eats or drinks. People can spread the infection if they go to the bathroom and don’t wash their hands. You can also get the infection if you eat the meat of an infected animal. Common sources include:
- Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, or fish
- Raw or undercooked eggs
- Unpasteurized milk, juice, or cheese
- Raw vegetables
There are many members of the salmonella family. Salmonella typhi is the cause of typhoid fever. Before antibiotics were available, typhoid fever was a very dangerous infection. Because it could not be treated, it could spread though the body and cause perforation of the bowel with severe bleeding along with severe dehydration from long-term diarrhea.
People who survived the infection could carry the bacteria in their body and spread the infection to others if they did not wash their hands after going to the bathroom. A famous example was Typhoid Mary. Mary was a cook in New York City between 1900 and 1907. Unfortunately, she was also a carrier of typhoid. She moved around a lot and left a trail of typhoid fever cases behind her. Typhoid fever was no joke before antibiotics. It may have contributed to the fall of Athens to the Spartans. It killed Alexander the Great, Herbert Hoover, one of the Wright brothers, and Abe Lincoln’s son Tad.
Luckily, typhoid fever is now very rare in developed counties like the US. But, salmonella that cause common food poisoning are very common. According to the CDC, salmonella causes about 1 million cases of food poisoning every year. Almost 20,000 people will have to be hospitalized from severe food poisoning.
How to Prevent Salmonella Food Poisoning
Prevention starts with hand washing. Make sure you wash your hands after touching any animal that might be infected. These animals include livestock and also animals that might be pets like reptiles and birds. Do not eat or drink any foods that are not pasteurized. Here is how to prevent salmonella food poisoning at your barbecue:
- Wash your hands before and after preparing the food.
- If you prepare one food (like chicken) before you go to another food (like a salad), wash your hands and your utensils to prevent cross contamination.
- Wash your vegetables and fruits well. Mushrooms, radishes, and sprouts are more likely to be contaminated, so you might want to leave them out of your salad.
- Avoid making dressings or sauces with raw eggs. These include hollandaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing.
- Avoid soft cheeses. These may be made with unpasteurized milk.
- If you serve egg salad or hard-boiled eggs, make sure the yokes are cooked until firm. If you put eggs into a casserole, use a food thermometer to make sure they are cooked to hit 160º F.
For foods cooked on the barbecue, use the food thermometer. Here are the safe temperatures:
- Ground meats: 160º F
- Fresh beef, lamb, or veal: 145º F (measure after letting the meat rest for 3 minutes)
- Poultry: 165º F
- Fish: Cook until the fish is white or opaque and firm or separates with a fork.
- Shellfish: Cook until the shells are open.
Symptoms of salmonella food poisoning start 12 hours to 3 days after eating. The most common symptoms are:
- Belly pain
- Muscle ache
- Blood in the stool
For most people, these symptoms clear up without treatment in about 4 to 7 days. But you are pregnant, so you are not most people. You need to call your doctor. Untreated salmonella infection can cause you to get dehydrated, which is bad for your baby. There is also some danger that salmonella can spread to your blood and then to your baby. Your baby could be born with an infection.
To be safe, your doctor may start you on an antibiotic. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids at home. Several common antibiotics are effective against salmonella. If you can’t keep fluids down, and you are losing fluids from diarrhea, your doctor may have you come to the hospital for IV fluids.
So go ahead and have your barbecue, but take precautions to prevent salmonella bacteria from attending the party. If you develop signs of food poisoning, let your doctor know. Better safe than sorry when it comes to salmonella.