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STOP Salmonella poisoning by eating safe eggs

This post was written by Vanessa Coffman, Education Manager at STOP Foodborne Illness. She holds a M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley. STOP is a national non-profit public health organization that assists those who have been impacted by food poisoning, educates the public, and advocates for sound policy change. If you or someone you know has been affected by a foodborne illness and would like assistance or help sharing your experience, email vcoffman@stopfoodborneillness.org  or call toll-free 1-800-350-STOP. 

Food safety is paramount. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Arlene, a member of STOP Foodborne Illness and survivor of Salmonella poisoning, is still suffering life-altering and somewhat gruesome side effects even three years later.

The Salmonella Arlene contracted while eating unpasteurized, improperly handled eggs from a restaurant served up a whole host of complications for this once-active grandmother. Secondary infections, regular colonoscopies, excruciating pain, and up to 30 (yes, three-zero) bowel movements a day are struggles for Arlene. Here she details her dramatically changed post-infection life:

I was becoming housebound. When I did venture out with my husband, I had to know that there would be a bathroom nearby. Most times when my husband was running an errand and asked if I wanted to go along, I usually chose not to. Too many times we were only a mile from our house and I would tell him to turn around and go back, and hurry. I needed to go again. No matter what I eat or don’t eat, it doesn’t help me. My life revolves around my bowel movements. I’ve missed weddings, my grandson’s graduation, and family get-togethers. I don’t make plans for the future because I don’t know how I will be on any given day.”

Those nasty little Salmonella bacteria cause 42,000 reported cases of salmonellosis in the United States each year, resulting in 400 deaths. The worst cases are mostly seen in children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised (those with cancer, HIV/AIDS, etc.). A challenge for scientists is to give us an accurate number of infections because people don’t report milder, short-lasting symptoms. The CDC estimates that the actual number of illnesses is likely to be greater than 1.2 million each year!

Holy, bacteria. That’s a lot of sick people.

What can you do to protect yourself? When buying eggs, select those that have been pasteurized.

What? They can pasteurize eggs?! I thought that was only for milk…  

Yep, they sure can. And pasteurized eggs taste, look, and cook just like unpasteurized ones. They’re now being used in restaurants, and you can find them in supermarkets across the country.

And, when you’re ordering your next three-egg omelet at your favorite diner, ask for it well done. That’s right. No sunny side-up, over easy, runny yolks or whites — unless of course you can confirm the chef is using pasteurized ones!

According to the CDC, there are only two ways to kill Salmonella bacteria: proper cooking and pasteurization. To be safe ensure your eggs are.

In America we like to tout our food safety system as being the global gold standard. And in some ways it is. Still, more than 8 people die each day in the U.S. from something they ate. And many survivors have stories about their close calls.

So buy smartly and consume safely. And get tips on how to protect yourself and your family from experiencing the debilitating, long-lasting effects Arlene has.

Arlene, who was kind enough to share her story with us.