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Salmonella is a genus of bacteria occurring everywhere in nature, for example in soil and on plants. They may cause the food borne illness salmonellosis. Infected persons develop severe gastro-intestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps and fever. People with a weak immune system have the highest risk to catch salmonellosis. Children and pregnant women, as well as old or sick people belong in this group.

In Europe salmonellosis is mostly connected to poultry or eggs. The risk of developing the disease is not nearly as high as generally assumed though. Correctly treated and prepared eggs and poultry effectively prevent infection.

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Transmission through food

Salmonellosis is usually contracted through ingestion of contaminated food. Many foods may contain salmonella. Examples are water, fruits and vegetables, milk, milk products, poultry, meat, fish and seafood. Foods derived from animals have the highest risk to be contaminated. While the bacteria may linger on the surface of plants, animals can actually be infected by it, which helps spreading the germs. In developing countries the disease may easily be caught through contaminated water, ice cubes, ice cream or salad (unwashed or washed with contaminated water).

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Rules of hygiene

If the following rules of hygiene are followed, here explained using the example of poultry preparation, salmonellosis infections may be prevented effectively.

  • Poultry must be stored in the refrigerator. Salmonella cannot reproduce at temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius. Fresh poultry is best stored at a temperature of 0 degrees Celsius.
  • Raw poultry must not come in contact with other foods. This is especially important for foods that are eaten raw, such as lettuce (salad greens), herbs or mushrooms.
  • Kitchen appliances (including cutting boards) must be cleaned thoroughly after the use with poultry and before they come into contact with other foods.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching poultry or other meat.
  • Poultry must be heated to a minimum temperature of 70 degrees Celsius before consumption. Potential salmonella are safely destroyed at that temperature.

Symptoms of salmonellosis develop between 6 and 72 hours after ingesting the germs. Where severe stomach cramps, acute diarrhoea, vomiting, headaches and fever occur, and salmonellosis is a possibility, a doctor should be visited.

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