Bad bacteria are always around you, just waiting for the right conditions to thrive and multiply. Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can contaminate your food and infect your body if you don’t carefully prepare your food, or maintain your personal hygiene. It lives in the intestines of people and animals; and is often shed through feces and transmitted to other hosts because of unhygienic practices. While you can’t get rid of the salmonella naturally present in the environment, it’s easy to prevent salmonella infection or salmonellosis.
Food Handling and Storage
The battle against salmonella starts with food handling and storage. Your body can handle bad bacteria just as long as their numbers are not too many. Sometimes though, temperature, moisture, and other factors encourage the growth of bad bacteria, especially in food storage. The following tips teach you everything you need to know about how to store your food safely to prevent salmonella and other bacterial infection.
- Order in the fridge. Keep meats separate from fruits, vegetables, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods when buying and storing groceries.A lot of cases of salmonella infection result from poor food handling. Meat is moist and a source of nutrition for many kinds of bacteria, so they can contaminate other foods if you put them in the same bag. Keeping meats and other foods separately packed prevents cross-contamination.
- The Great Barrier Ref. Refrigerate food immediately. Some types of bacteria grow fast, so always go directly home from the grocery store, and refrigerate the food immediately. Salmonellae won’t be able to withstand the extreme low temperature inside the fridge, and they’ll eventually die.
- Say Hello to “Defrosty the Snowman.” Defrost food either in cold water in the refrigerator or in the microwave. Never defrost food at room temperature because this is ideal for the growth of bacteria. Set your refrigerator to four degrees Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer to -18 degrees Celsius or 0 Fahrenheit to defrost food. You can use a meat thermometer to accurately measure the temperature of meats and other foods.
- Don’t Tempt the Temp. Maintain proper food temperature. Food must be maintained at the proper temperature through the whole process of preparation, from food storage to eating. Hot foods such as soups must remain at a temperature of at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit, while cold foods must stay below 40 degrees.
Wellness through Washing
The simple act of washing everything used in food preparation goes a long way toward preventing salmonella infection. The following are tips on how to wash food and other things properly:
- Wash your hands before, during, and after food preparation. Your hands are one of the dirtiest parts of your body. Harmful bacteria thrive underneath your fingernails; and you can easily pass them on to the food you’re preparing. Wash your hands with water and antibacterial soap to get rid of most of the bacteria. Also, never prepare food if you have diarrhea or a salmonella infection. Even with medications, it may take several days to weeks before salmonella is completely cleared from the body.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. Some health buffs don’t care to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, for the fear that they might lose important nutrients that are on the surface. While it’s true that nutrients are continuously being lost throughout the whole food preparation process, this is no reason to skip washing fruits and vegetables. A few lost nutrients are much better than stomach pains and irregular bowel movements due to diarrhea. In addition, peel fruits and vegetables if possible, because some bacteria still cling on the surface even after you’ve washed them.
- Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils: Wash everything that you use for food preparation to reduce your risk of infection. Scrub cutting boards, countertops, knives, and other utensils, especially if they touch raw foods. It’s also advisable to use paper towels rather than sponges when washing surfaces, because sponges sometimes encourage the growth of bacteria.
Cook Food Thoroughly to Prevent Infection
Some strains of bacteria are hardy enough to withstand extreme temperatures in your fridge, which is why it’s important to cook food thoroughly. Here are some tips to be sure that your food is salmonella-free.
- Beware of cross-contamination: Once a utensil has been used on eggs, raw meat, or fish, don’t reuse it on foods that you won’t cook. Bacteria on these moist, raw foods can easily be transferred to fruits and vegetables that you may be planning to eat raw. Use this same precaution with surfaces such as countertops and cutting boards. Also, use different cutting boards for fresh produce and raw products.
- Well-Done. Burnt to a crisp is better than bloody as hell.Your tastes may lean toward raw steaks and sushis, but foods that are well-done are always safer in terms of the risk of bacterial infection. Raw foods are especially dangerous if they don’t contain an acidic substance like vinegar to help control the population of bacteria. As much as possible, order thoroughly cooked foods in restaurants; and don’t hesitate to send food back to the kitchen if it needs further cooking.
- Mothers Know Best? Changing diapers and food preparation don’t go together. As silly as it sounds, some mothers prepare food while changing diapers of their children at the same time. Remember that salmonellae are usually shed through feces and you could easily transfer them to the food you’re cooking. Also, be extra careful when you’re preparing food for infants, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems because they are more vulnerable to infection.
Eat Safely to Live Healthy
Salmonellae can multiply anytime during food preparation as long as conditions are perfect. In fact, even cooked food on your table is not safe from them. Here are some tips to be absolutely sure you’re food is free from salmonella.
- Detect Danger Early. Never eat food that have sat for too long. The “danger zone” for food is 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. Don’t even attempt to take a bite of a burger or pizza that’s been under these conditions. It’s not worth the risk of getting sick with salmonella.
- Egg-cellent Preparations. Choose eggless dishes for picnics. A picnic may not be complete without a creamy potato salad, but the summer sun can easily turn that delicious creaminess to painful illness. Instead of packing salads with eggs, go for vinegar-based salads which are more resistant to bacteria.
- Raw is War. Think twice before eating raw eggs.Raw eggs are probably the most commonly cited causes of salmonella infection. If you want to be absolutely protected from salmonella, stay clear of these foods:
- Caesar and other salad dressings
- Homemade hollandaise sauce
- Homemade ice cream
- Homemade mayonnaise
- Homemade cookie dough and frostings
- Drink milk the right way. Some people drink raw milk from bulk tanks, which is extremely dangerous, because salmonella is shed through milk in acute cases of disease in cattle. Always drink pasteurized or retail milk to avoid infection. In addition, mother’s milk is still best for infants because breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and other health problems.
- Prevent an Outbreak. Inform the local public health department if you’re diagnosed with salmonellosis.If many people get infected with salmonella at a time, it may mean that a particular restaurant or food item carries the bacteria. Authorities must be informed immediately to prevent an outbreak.
Animals and Salmonella
Aside from food, animals are also carriers of many kinds of bad bacteria, including salmonella. Keep the following tips in mind when you’re near animals.
- Wash your hands after petting your cat or dog. Salmonella can be transferred from animal feces to fur, so wash your hands after stroking your cat or dog. Also, wear gloves or wash your hands after changing the kitty litter or scooping up your dog’s feces.
- Don’t touch reptiles and birds. Aside from cats and dogs, reptiles like iguanas, turtles, and lizards have been found to be carriers of salmonella as well. Don’t touch them, or wash your hands thoroughly after handling them. Do the same after touching birds like chickens and baby chicks.
- Make the barn safe. Salmonellae sometimes thrive in barns because of the number of animals in close proximity to each other. If you have a barn, always wear protective clothing like boots, gloves, and coveralls when handling livestock. Keep high-risk individuals like children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems away from the barn. Also, alert your veterinarian immediately if you notice an increasing number of salmonella cases in the farm.
- Make sure that your garden fertilizer is safe. If you’re using manure to fertilize your garden, make sure that it’s guaranteed to be free of harmful bacteria before using it. Some commercial animal-derived fertilizers contain salmonellae and viruses that can be transfered to food.
Prevention is always better than cure. Don’t worry too much if you’re infected because salmonella usually goes away on its own within several days to two weeks even without specific treatment. Treatment usually involves fluid replacement because of the diarrhea associated with the infection. Still, it’s advisable to consult your doctor immediately if you experience abdominal pains and lose bowel movement.
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