July 2012

What Is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause a diarrhea illness called Salmonellosis. It is usually caused by eating food or water contaminated with animal feces.

How Is Salmonella Spread?

Salmonella is found in the stool (bowel movements) of persons, animals or birds infected with the bacteria.  A person can get infected with salmonella by eating:

  • contaminated meat or meat products
  • contaminated poultry or poultry products
  • raw and undercooked egg products
  • raw milk or milk products
  • contaminated water (Canadian tap water is safe)
  • contaminated raw fruits and vegetables
  • food contaminated by someone ill with Salmonellosis

Pets such as iguanas, tortoises, turtles, terrapins, dogs, cats, chicks and other baby poultry may have the bacteria and may be a source of illness if hands are not washed after handling.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • Fever                                                         ●    Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps                                       ●    Headache
  • Nausea                                                      ●    Vomiting

Sometimes the illness can progress into a blood or localized infection.

How Soon Do the Symptoms Start?

Symptoms usually start 12 to 36 hours after being infected with Salmonella, but can range from 6 to 72 hours. These symptoms can last for several days.

When and for How Long Is a Person Able to Spread Salmonella?

A person can spread the bacteria for several days to weeks after being infected.  It is important to carefully wash hands after going to the toilet.

Who Is at Risk of Getting Salmonellosis?

Anyone can get ill from Salmonella when they ingest (swallow) the bacteria.  However, infants and the elderly are at a greater risk of suffering from severe dehydration and other complications.

How Can the Spread of Salmonella Bacteria Be Prevented?

Keep hands and surfaces clean:

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after preparing food, especially when handling raw poultry, meat and eggs.
  • Hands should be washed after using the toilet, changing a diaper, helping someone who has diarrhea, helping children use the toilet, and after touching pets.
  • Always wash counters, cutting boards, knives, and other utensils with hot soapy water after they come into contact with raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Separate raw from cooked:

  • Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other food in your grocery cart and bags.
  • Store raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator on a plate so juices don’t drip onto other foods.
  • Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood and another for ready-to-eat foods such as vegetables and fruit.
  • Never place cooked food on a place that held raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Cook meat thoroughly:

  • Salmonella can be killed through cooking, so it is important to cook foods thoroughly.
  • Use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked meat and poultry to make sure that the meat is cooked all the way through.
  • If you don’t use a meat thermometer, cook until the juices run clear (no blood). Do not eat ground beef that is pink inside.

Chill keep it cold:

  • Keep foods refrigerated at a temperature of 4oC/40oF or below.
  • Never marinate or defrost food at room temperature.
  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator or in the microwave, if cooking the food item immediately.
  • Do not leave food items at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.

Other ways to prevent the spread of Salmonella:

  • Do not prepare food or pour drinks, care for hospitalized patients, the elderly or children if you have diarrhea.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Do not consume raw (unpasteurized) milk, milk products and/or raw eggs.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly.
  • Avoid eating raw eggs in food items like homemade ice cream, cesear dressing and eggnog.
  • Avoid using dirty or cracked eggs.
  • In a restaurant, if you are served undercooked meat or poultry send it back for further cooking.

More Information

Call Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600 (TTY at 416-392-0658) or speak to your health care provider.