By: Candess Zona-Mendola

The Cole County Health Department in Missouri reported this week that there is a concerning number of Salmonella cases seen in Cole County at this time. There are currently two dozen suspected cases under investigation at this time, according to reports by ABC 17 news and KWOS news radio. The type of Salmonella strain is involved in this outbreak has yet to be released. In fact, confirmation of serotype is still pending. The local health department confirmed to the local media that testing of specimens from the victims is ongoing at the State Health Lab. At this time, there is no particular source the department can trace, and the agency has not discussed any potential leads.

In the meantime, the health agency has posted articles concerning the outbreak on social media in hopes to spread the word.

The Details We Know

The source of potential contamination related to this outbreak is still unknown. During an interview with ABC 17, Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell told the news outlet that the department has yet to identify the source. Director Campbell, in a separate interview with the News Tribune, commented, “With food illnesses, many times you never truly find the source. But the best way to try and find out is by interviewing the people that have gotten sick, and that’s what is happening now. We are asking all kinds of questions, including has anybody else in their family been sick. We’ll make a spread sheet and look for common denominators.”

Salmonella is a common foodborne illness, and spring is an especially common time of year for it. Director Campbell urges the community to be extra careful. “At this time of the year, there are many events or businesses that have baby chick days, and the chicks can spread salmonella very quickly. So anytime you’re handling the chicks, afterwards, wash your hands. We can’t stress that enough,” according to Director Campbell.

The investigation is in its infancy. As Salmonella is common, the testing is crucial to help generate ideas and leads for the investigation. Director Campbell stated that the testing, “… should show what specific type these folks have … The lab results are important to finding what we’re dealing with.” It is hopeful that upon the receipt of the test results, the agency will release information about the potential sources. Salmonella is among the priority disease conditions under surveillance with Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). In fact, in 2012, a dozen or so Cole County residents were part of a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella linked to cantaloupes from southwestern Indiana.

Salmonella Bacteria

Salmonella is one of the most common forms of food poisoning – accounting for over 1 million cases of infection per year. Due to underreporting, it is estimated that as many as 2 to 4 million cases of salmonellosis occur in the United States annually. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, of these cases, there are “19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.” In fact, in 2016 alone, 895 cases of Salmonella in 48 states were linked to live poultry sources. These include domesticated, backyard flocks of chickens. Three people died in 2016 from contracting Salmonella from backyard flocks. Unlike many other bacterial infections, like Listeria, the instance of Salmonella infections is on the rise in the United States.

The Food and Drug Administration reports Salmonella outbreaks linked to several foods, including: “raw meats, poultry, eggs, milk and dairy products, fish, shrimp, frog legs, yeast, coconut, sauces and salad dressing, cake mixes, cream-filled desserts and toppings, dried gelatin, peanut butter, cocoa, and chocolate.”

The signs and symptoms of Salmonella can come quickly, usually within six to 72 hours. Symptoms can include: fever, abdominal or stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, and diarrhea. A typical healthy adult will usually recover within four to six days. However, in more severe cases someone can be hospitalized or suffer long term complications. These can include reactive arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. In rare instances, Salmonella can also cause blood infections (bacteremia), endocarditis (infection of the heart’s inner lining), and infected aneurysms (arterial infections).

The Cole County Health Department recommends that anyone exhibiting signs or symptoms of a Salmonella infection seek medical attention. Director Campbell confirmed the same during her interviews.


Prevention is Key

As Director Campbell mentioned, spring is an especially concerning time of year for Salmonella. Director Campbell offered additional tips concerning Salmonella prevention. She urges the community to remember to keep hot food hot (at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above) and cold food cold (at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below). “Proper preparation of food is the best away to avoid salmonella,” she said to Jeff Haldiman of the News Tribune.

To help keep you and yours healthy, we have compiled some tips to prevent Salmonella infections:

  • Remember, raw chicken is not the only source of Salmonella – healthy-looking chickens and eggs also could be contaminated with Salmonella. It is a good idea to always wash your hands after handing chickens and unwashed eggs. Microbiological testing has found the presence of Salmonella on the outside of egg shells.
  • Washing clothing after handling live chicken and poultry is also a good practice. Salmonella is passed easily between humans and animals from cross-contamination onto clothing items.
  • When processing or preparing raw chicken, poultry, or eggs, it is best to separate these ingredients from other raw or ready-to-eat items, so as to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Raw chicken and eggs can be properly stored in airtight containers to prevent raw juice spillage on surfaces and in the refrigerator. This also prevents cross-contamination.
  • Washing and sanitizing food preparation areas, surfaces, and utensils after preparation of raw ingredients is helpful.
  • It is best not to rinse raw chicken in the sink prior to preparation and cooking. It has been reported that rinsing raw chicken actually creates cross-contamination and contaminated water could splash in areas that may not be noticed.
  • Properly heating chicken and eggs to optimum temperature – 165 degrees Fahrenheit – ill greatly reduce the likelihood of infection from an undercooked poultry product.

As UnsafeFoods continues to follow this outbreak, we encourage anyone exhibiting signs and symptoms of Salmonella to seek medical attention. Salmonella can be diagnosed through a stool sample. Food poisoning lawsuits.