We just heard it again. Salmonella is back, big time. Just when we think we have it under control, it comes to visit again. Oh Sammy, however do you spread your bacteria-self over our food?
We need to be aware about salmonella in our home, our restaurants, our food processing and our food supply. Fortunately, it can be easily killed. Assume all foods you handle are contaminated. With the popularity of summer picnics, we just have to be aware.
Salmonella, who are you and what are you doing in my food?
"Sammy" is the one customer that is never welcome in a restaurant, home or picnic. There are many strains of salmonella. Some can be dangerous when consumed by humans. Salmonella, a food-borne illness easily killed but easily transmitted, is a bacterium that grows with or without oxygen. The bacterium needs moisture and grows best at the human body temperature of 98.6 degrees.
Salmonella bacteria is zootomic, meaning it can pass from humans to animals and vice versa. Occurring naturally in the excretions of domestic and wild animals, salmonella can be found in humans, in poultry, on egg shells, in polluted water, standing water, raw eggs or in any unclean food stuff. It can be spread by the human hand. Your guests can be carriers and not show any signs of the illness.
These outbreaks are commonly caused by three controllable factors: cross-contamination, the improper cooking or storage of foods or poor personal hygiene.
An example of cross-contamination happens when the knife that is used to cut up the chicken is then used to cut up the raw cucumber for the salad. We do not get sick from the chicken if it is cooked properly. We get sick from the chicken juice on the knife that cut the cucumber that does not get cooked before being eaten.
To further avoid infection, most of us already know the drill: Salmonella is most often found in raw eggs, undercooked poultry and meats and spread by people. Wash your hands, wash utensils after preparing raw meat, and put those hot-off-the-grill burgers onto a clean plate - not the one that held uncooked meat. Cook food thoroughly. Don't thaw meat at room temperature. Always wash your hands when using the rest room, etc., etc.
Assume foods are contaminated. We have regular health inspections in our food-handling locations and restaurants. Our food handlers are trained. We have the research and know the causes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service knows what to do. But our system is very large, and anything can happen.
One item affects many. Food is processed by one company and distributed to hundreds of other locations and put into many products. Each item has a contamination possibility. Each contamination possibility has more contamination possibilities, and so it goes.
The market is global. We import foods from countries where we can't control the processing. I recall being in Mexico and watching the children swim in the river of the town's only water supply and sewer drain. There were many chickens around, and Mom was doing the laundry there.
Organic is not bacteria-free. As we experiment with "all natural," people tend to think that natural means safe. It may be free from chemicals, but it is not free from germs.
Packaged is not germ-free. In fact, the granola bars during the peanut salmonella outbreak were in the perfect packaging for the growth of the bacteria. It provided warmth and moisture and time for the bacteria to grow. Packaged items must be handled as all food products.
But what can we do to be safe? Salmonella likes warmth (and summer time). It needs time to grow. Don't let food sit on that buffet all afternoon in the sun. Cold temperature will slow the growth of salmonella (keep items in the fridge or a well-iced cooler). Freezing does not kill the bacteria, and it can live for a long time. Salmonella does not like acid. Pickling, vinegar dressings, tomato and lemon juice in salads will help keep the growth down. Acid will slow its growth and high acid may kill it. Like humans, Sammy likes water and moisture (dry items are safer than wet; chips are safer than dips). Most importantly, salmonella is easily killed by temperatures of 140 degrees or higher for 10 minutes, or 165 degrees for one minute. Barbeque meat thoroughly, and use a meat thermometer. We just have to be aware.
For more information, visit www.fsis.usda.gov.
Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.