Salmonella: What is it and how to avoid it

Salmonella accounts for more than 1 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the United States annually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection routinely appears as the cause of recalls of food each year and is more common in the summer months than winter.

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Here are five things to know about salmonella.

What is it?

Salmonella is a bacteria that makes people sick from an infection called salmonellosis.

How do people get sick from it?

Salmonellosis happens when people eat contaminated food or come in contact with animals and their environment. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sources include contaminated eggs, poultry, meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables -- like melons and alfalfa sprouts -- spices and nuts. Animal sources include reptiles, amphibians and birds. Pet food and pet treats are also sources of salmonella.

What are the symptoms of salmonella infection?

According to the CDC, people infected with salmonella have fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after being infected. The illness typically lasts four to seven days. Most people recover without hospitalization or other treatment.

Salmonella is more dangerous for older adults, children under 5 years old and people with weakened immune systems.

How can I prevent salmonella infection?

Thoroughly cooking and the pasteurization of food kills salmonella. Eating raw or undercooked food increases the risk of getting a salmonella infection. The CDC says utensils, cutting boards, dishes and counter tops should be washed with hot, soapy water after preparing uncooked food items. Hands should also be washed with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling uncooked food.

Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Surfaces that come in contact with food should be sanitized with a fresh solution of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water. Raw meat, eggs and poultry should not be washed before cooking to prevent spreading bacteria. Separate cutting boards should be used for raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.

Raw meat, poultry and seafood should be separate from ready-to-eat foods like deli meat and salads.

Eggs should be stored in the main part of the refrigerator, not in the door.

Foods should be cooked thoroughly to a safe internal temperature. The proper temperature depends on the food item, but food should be microwaved to 156 degrees Fahrenheit or above.

Perishables, prepared foods and leftovers should be frozen or refrigerated within two hours or within one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter.

More information on preventing salmonella infection is at the CDC website.