Explainer: How to avoid salmonella bacteria

By Neelima Choahan 

A range of products have been recalled following a salmonella outbreak that has infected 28 people, and hospitalised two. 

How to avoid food poisoning

Learn how to keep bacteria at bay and handle food safely. Vision: Better Health Channel.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services said it had identified a number of cases of the infection linked to lettuce grown and packaged by Victorian company Tripod Farmers.

This prompted a national recall of pre-packaged lettuce and salad sold in Coles and Woolworths.

Wash your hand with soap and hot running water to reduce the risk of salmonella bacteria spreading.
Wash your hand with soap and hot running water to reduce the risk of salmonella bacteria spreading.  Photo: Michele Mossop

But taking simple precautions while handling and storing food can help avoid salmonellosis, an infection caused by salmonella bacteria. 

What is salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is a form of gastroenteritis caused by the germ (bacterium) salmonella. Salmonellosis can affect anyone. However, most cases occur in children and young adults. The severity of symptoms depends on the number of bacteria you ingest, your age and your general health. 

One of the Coles salads included in the recall.
One of the Coles salads included in the recall.  Photo: Supplied

What are the causes? 

Salmonellosis occurs when salmonella bacteria are ingested . This can happen: 

Tripod Farmer's SupaSalad Supamix has been recalled.
Tripod Farmer's SupaSalad Supamix has been recalled.  
  • By eating undercooked meat, especially poultry, and raw or undercooked eggs
  • By eating cooked or ready-to-eat food that has been contaminated with salmonella bacteria from raw food, such as raw chicken. This can happen when food comes into contact with contaminated kitchen surfaces, such as chopping boards and utensils that have been used to prepare raw food
  • If people with salmonellosis have salmonella bacteria in their faeces and do not wash their hands properly, their contaminated hands can spread the bacteria to surfaces and objects that may be touched by others, or food that will be eaten by others
  • Hands can also become contaminated when changing the nappy of an infected infant.
  • Pets and farm animals who may have salmonella bacteria in their faeces without having any symptoms. People can get salmonellosis from these animals if they do not wash their hands after handling them.

What are the symptoms? 

A multi-jurisdictional outbreak investigation has been launched over the cases.
A multi-jurisdictional outbreak investigation has been launched over the cases. 

Symptoms of salmonellosis usually occur between six and 72 hours after ingesting the bacteria. The most common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea, which may contain blood or mucous
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration

What should you do if you think you have salmonellosis?

  • Contact your doctor
  • Contact your local council
  • Contact Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit, Department of Health and Human Services Victoria at 1300 651 160
  • Department of Health and Human Services Victoria on (03) 9096 0000
  • Keep any leftover food that you believe may have caused you to become ill, as this will help trace the source of the bacteria.

How to reduce the risk of salmonella bacteria in your food

To help protect yourself and others from salmonellosis:

  • Thoroughly cook food derived from animal products - especially poultry, pork, eggs and meat dishes
  • Don't use dirty or cracked eggs
  • Keep your kitchen clean. Raw foods can contaminate surfaces
  • Store raw and cooked foods separately
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and hot running water for 20 seconds before handling food
  • Store high risk foods at or below 5°C or at or above 60°C to prevent the growth of bacteria
  • Do not handle cooked foods with the same utensils used for raw foods, unless they have been thoroughly washed between use

How to prevent the spread of infection

  • Keep sick children home from school, childcare or kindergarten until their symptoms have ceased
  • Infected food handlers, childcare workers and healthcare workers must not work until their symptoms have stopped
  • Clean bathrooms and other surfaces regularly

Victoria's Department of Health spokesman Bram Alexander said if people had something that wasn't on the recall list and they had doubts about it, then they should throw it out.

"Salad needs to be refrigerated and stored properly," Mr Alexander said.

"Observe the use-by date or the best-by date, and if something has passed its used-by date then it is probably best to get rid of it."

He also advised people to wash whole lettuce before putting it into salads or sandwiches. 

"Most other product on the shelves that is pre-washed, and that's what pre-packaged lettuce is ...should be OK," Mr Alexander said.

"It is only the Tripod Farms' product line that we are concerned about at this time."

Source: Gastroenteritis - salmonellosis - Better Health Channel, Victorian Government

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