Pistachios. Pine nuts. Pulp of fruits. Pot pie. What do these foods have in common—besides the letter “P”? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the answer is: Salmonella. Each food has been involved in a Salmonella-related outbreak and/or recall.
And the list goes on. Other Salmonella-affected foods over recent years include alfalfa sprouts, cilantro, Kosher broiled chicken livers, ground turkey, turkey burgers, ground beef, peanut butter, cantaloupes, Italian-style meats, frozen rice entrees, and dry pet food.
So the next time someone tells you Salmonella is a rare germ and the risk is anything less than a real and present danger, be advised that Salmonella outbreaks averaged almost one per month in 2011, according to a CDC compilation.
Salmonella in Pine Nuts
Take the pine nut story, for example. Salmonella-contaminated pine nuts sold in bulk bins in grocery stores sickened 43 people in five states in 2011, according to the CDC report. So much for that batch of pesto.
The specific bacterium was Salmonella Enteritis, the same one we hear of in eggs. And much like eggs, many foods have a defined “contamination rate”. The FDA says that fresh papayas imported to the U.S. from Mexico had a 15.6% contamination rate from roughly May through August, 2011. During the ground turkey recall of August 2011, The New York Times reported that 10-15% of ground turkey sold in grocery stores is typically contaminated with Salmonella, per public health records.
Salmonella by Any Other Name
Salmonella bacteria are not new, notes the CDC, which says they’ve been known to cause illness for more than a century. And yes, there really was a scientist named Salmon behind the name!
It’s not only the pervasive food list, but the list of Salmonella varieties might surprise you. Beyond the familiar Salmonella Enteritidis that can show up in any eggs on the farm, consider Salmonella Typhimurium, Heidelberg, Agona, Johannesburg, Hadar, Panama, Montevideo, Newport, Hartford, Baildon, Chester, Saintpaul, Litchfield, Schwarzengrund, and many others. Foodborne illness bacteria are a dynamic bunch, and many of these species are new strains, many of them antibiotic-resistant.
Protect Yourself from Salmonella
Every time a Salmonella outbreak comes to a close, the CDC cautions the public with a statement like the one addressing the 2010 egg recall and Salmonella outbreak: “This particular outbreak appears to be over. However, Salmonella is still an important cause of human illness in the United States.” They also remind the public there is no vaccine.
So, they advise, be careful. Their suggestions for avoiding Salmonella: “Because foods of animal origin may be contaminated with Salmonella, people should not eat raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, or meat… Persons also should not consume raw or unpasteurized milk or other dairy products. Produce should be thoroughly washed.”
Regarding eggs, still a predominant source of Salmonella Enteritis illness, the CDC cautions against using ordinary raw or undercooked shell eggs. They remind consumers, “Raw eggs may be unrecognized in some foods, such as homemade Hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other homemade salad dressings, tiramisu, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, cookie dough, and frostings.” Pasteurized eggs such as Safest Choice™ eggs eliminate the risk of Salmonella in eggs and make all these egg recipes safer.
Adds the CDC, “Wider use of pasteurized eggs in restaurants, hospitals, and nursing homes is an important prevention measure.”
Why don’t more people—and restaurants—and healthcare organizations—use pasteurized eggs?