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Here’s what you need to know about salmonella and how to avoid it

Five things to know about the pre-cut melon salmonella outbreak

A salmonella outbreak traced to pre-cut watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe sold at Walmart, Whole Foods/Amazon, Kroger, Costco, Walgreens, Trader Joe's and other grocers has infected 60 people in five states and hospitalized 31.
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A salmonella outbreak traced to pre-cut watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe sold at Walmart, Whole Foods/Amazon, Kroger, Costco, Walgreens, Trader Joe's and other grocers has infected 60 people in five states and hospitalized 31.

Q: What is salmonella, how does it affect a person, and why are there so many food recalls because of salmonella concerns?

A: Salmonella, a type of bacteria, is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States.

The Center for Disease Control estimates each year salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths. One million of the 1.2 million illnesses are caused by consuming contaminated food.

Salmonella can be contracted by eating contaminated food like eggs, meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables, spices, and nuts.

Some of the most recent product recalls because of the risk of salmonella were caused by whey powder used in seasoning of Goldfish crackers from Pepperidge Farm, Mondelēz’s Ritz cheese sandwiches, and swiss rolls sold under the names Great Value, Baker’s Treat, Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, and Market Square. There was also a recall of The Hungry-Man microwavable dinners “Chipotle BBQ Sauced Boneless Chicken Wyngz” produced by Pinnacle Foods Inc., for the same reason.

You can also get salmonella from certain animals, their environment or feces like snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs and birds. The animals become infected through their environment, contaminated food, or from their mothers before birth. The bacteria naturally occurs in the intestines of some animals.

Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, says symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, and can last 4 to 7 days. These symptoms may appear anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria.

The illness can be more serious for children younger than 5 years of age, adults older than 65 years of age, and people with weakened immune systems.

Arnold said, in an email: “In some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other places in the body.”

She said, in rare cases, a salmonella infection could cause death unless the person afflicted is treated with antibiotics.

It may take awhile for your bowels to return to normal after contracting salmonella. A small amount of people develop “reactive arthritis,” or pain in their joints, from a salmonella infection.

If you contract salmonella, drink fluids and rest. If your symptoms are severe or you are in one of the high risk groups, contact your doctor or go to the hospital. Salmonella can be diagnosed by your health care professional through a stool sample test.

Arnold said, “Salmonella is reported to the Local Health Department by laboratories, hospitals and providers, either through the Illinois-National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (I-NEDSS) or by phone or fax. Once the case is entered into I-NEDSS, it is accessible by Illinois Department of Public Health.”

Prevention tips

Avoid eating high-risk foods, including undercooked eggs, undercooked ground beef or poultry, or drinking unpasteurized milk. If you receive undercooked food at a restaurant, send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.

Wash all produce.

Keep food properly refrigerated. Be aware of food temperature when moving foods from one place to another.

Wash your hands before preparing food or after any contact with animals.

Wash the surfaces you use for food preparation.

Keep ready-to-eat foods separate from foods that are cooked. This includes utensils used in food preparation and plates.

Utilize a thermometer to check the internal temperature of cooked foods.

Be particularly careful when preparing foods for older adults, children or those whose immune system has been compromised.

Don’t feed your infant and change his or her diaper at the same time.

People who have a salmonella infection should not prepare food for others until their diarrhea has ceased.

Report an infection

Sharon Valentine, of the environmental programs division of the St. Clair County Health Department, said to call 618-233-7769 if you believe you have a salmonella infection.

The health department will begin an investigation by asking the caller to fill out a three-day report. The report gathers information about which foods you’ve eaten, and the restaurants or grocery stores where you have purchased food in the last three days.

Valentine said, “Everyone seems to think it was the last place they ate. More often than not it takes 36 to 72 hours (for the salmonella) to show up in your system.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, online at www.cdc.gov, list the most recent food-related illness outbreaks including salmonella and E. coli.

You may also want to contact your local health care provider if you believe you have a salmonella infection.

If you have a question for Ask Heidi, email it to questions@bnd.com or mail it to Belleville News-Democrat, ATTN: Ask Heidi, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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