Why Are Salmonella Cases Rising?

How Common Are Salmonella Infections in the U.S.?

Salmonella is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness in the U.S., with more than one million Americans infected each year. Fortunately, most Salmonella infections are self-limiting and don't require antibiotic treatment. However, some illnesses are more severe, and there is also rising concern about increased antibiotic resistance when treating Salmonellosis in humans. Treatment failure has been reported for infections resistant to certain antibiotics, including ciprofloxacin

Salmonellosis (the infection humans get from ingesting Salmonella bacteria) can be caused by eating undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs, cross-contamination in the kitchen or other food-prep surfaces, or improper cooking washing fresh vegetables and fruit.

Safe steps in food handling, cooking, storage, cleaning, and disinfection are vital in preventing foodborne illness. 

Why Are Salmonella Outbreaks Becoming More Frequent? 

According to new research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic-resistant Salmonella infections are rising as much as 40% each year. For the study, published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the CDC researchers looked at human Salmonella infections reported to public health laboratories and local health departments through the Laboratory-Based Enteric Disease Surveillance (LEDS) from 2004 to 2016.

Although the CDC study did not examine the causes of increasing resistance in Salmonella bacteria, the authors hint at a few possible sources. For instance, the researchers note that the increase in ampicillin-only and multidrug-resistant Salmonella infections was highest in the West and Midwest regions––two areas of the U.S. where pork consumption is higher than the national average.

Alarmingly, medically necessary antibiotics have become widespread in U.S. pork production. 

A 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that just over 90% of swine operations gave pigs medically essential antibiotics. The CDC researchers note that pork products have been consistently linked to antibiotic-resistant Salmonella infections in the West. Additionally, the researchers cite a study that identified multidrug-resistant strains in pigs in the Midwest. 

The researchers also note that international travel could be contributing to a rise in outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant strains. 

Additionally, it’s important to note that the current U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations aim to curtail – but not eliminate – the bacteria. For example, under the USDA’s current “performance standards,” up to 15.4% of chicken parts leaving a processing plant are permitted to test positive for Salmonella. Contamination exceeds those levels in about one in 10 plants, according to a report in 2021 by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Suppose food-processing facilities, manufacturing plants, restaurants, and home chefs stay consistent with infection prevention practices. In that case, we can avoid ingesting the bacteria in most cases and stop outbreaks before they happen. 

Given that Americans eat about 160 million servings every day, most consumers are cooking and handling chicken properly––and having a safe (and often delicious) experience. However, it’s easy to slip up. 

Salmonella is the second-leading cause of food poisoning in the country, infecting an estimated 1.35 million Americans sick annually, and leading to about 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths, according to the CDC. 

Chicken and turkey are responsible for about a fifth of Salmonella infections in the U.S. – more than any other food category. 

According to Ashley Peterson, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs at the National Chicken Council, poultry companies have invested tens of millions of dollars in enhancing the safety of products. As a result,  the prevalence of Salmonella infections linked to chicken is steadily decreasing. 

Despite these efforts, the national infection rate remains stubbornly high and remains top of mind for researchers and public health experts. 

Martin Wiedmann, professor of food safety at Cornell University, states: “We are winning at a numbers game regarding the percentage of chickens positive for Salmonella, but losing the public health game.”

And with several high-profile Salmonella outbreaks in the news recently, now is a great time to review the basics of Salmonella infection prevention. Of particular concern for healthcare professionals is that an estimated one in five Americans has an underlying condition that makes them more vulnerable to illness caused by Salmonella

According to the CDC, Salmonella bacteria infect roughly 1.35 million Americans every year, leading to an estimated 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths annually, primarily through food contamination. People can become infected with Salmonella by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, or coming into contact with infected animals or animal feces. And “contaminated food” doesn’t just mean beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs; you can also get a Salmonella infection from vegetables (including onions), fruits, and even peanut butter

The contamination of produce can occur at any stage of its journey from field to plate. From animal waste runoff in the water used to grow them to the hands of the worker who handles them in processing facilities and stores, pathogens are everywhere – including in your very own kitchen. 

A study published in the Journal of Global Biosecurity in 2020 concluded that a higher number and proportion of outbreaks are now associated with fruit and vegetables rather than animal products. The study's authors note that chicken and eggs are the most common “food vehicles” related to foodborne illnesses. However, upon examining data on Salmonella outbreaks caused by fruit and vegetables globally, the researchers concluded that “the proportion of Salmonella outbreaks caused by fruit and vegetables has been increasing, as observed in both the United States of America (USA) and Australia.” 

The researchers noted that an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption and the distance the produce travels to get to us could contribute to rising instances of food recalls and food poisoning. 

Related: How to Clean and Sanitize Your Refrigerator After a Food Recall 

According to a study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, climate change might be another likely link to rising Salmonella cases. The researchers state that the rise in global temperatures may increase the spread of foodborne pathogens, the researchers noted.

To explore the links between climate change and the increased spread of foodborne pathogens, researchers examined meteorological data collected from three states between 2002 to 2011 and analyzed the correlation with Salmonellosis. They found that gastrointestinal infection with bacterial pathogens was positively correlated with ambient temperature and concluded that warmer temperatures allow Salmonella bacteria to replicate more quickly, leading to increased infection.

How Can Salmonella Outbreaks Be Prevented? 

If food-processing facilities, manufacturing plants, restaurants, and home chefs alike stay consistent with food safety and handling methods, we can most often avoid ingesting the bacteria and stop outbreaks before they happen. Infection prevention methods include: 

  • Handling certain foods (such as raw meat) with extra care by preventing cross-contamination, and refrigerating promptly 
  • Paying attention to current food recalls and outbreaks
  • Staying on top of general hygiene practices (like hand washing often)
  • Avoiding undercooked meat 
  • Cooking food to safe minimum internal temperatures (check out FoodSafety.gov’s guidelines here) using a food thermometer. 
  • Frequently cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting all cooking and food-prep surfaces, including counters, cutting boards, and knives, with an EPA-approved product, such as Vital Oxide

Related: How Can Salmonella Infections Be Prevented? 

What Disinfectant Kills Salmonella? 

Vital Oxide is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and approved for use against Salmonella enterica, with a contact time of 10 minutes for effective disinfection. 

What Food-Contact Sanitizer Kills Salmonella? 

Vital Oxide kills 99.9% of bacteria, including Salmonella enterica and Escherichia coli (E. coli), on food-contact surfaces in 60 seconds. 

Vital Oxide is ideal for use in every step of the food production chain and beyond, including: 

  • Farm Premises and Equipment
  • Poultry Houses
  • Animal Pens, Quarters, and Kennels 
  • Animal Transport Vehicles
  • Food-Processing Premises and Equipment
  • Household, Commercial, and Restaurant Food-Prep Surfaces Including: Countertops, Tables, Appliances, Cookware, Utensils, Glassware, and Dishware
  • Household and Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers 

At Vital Oxide, we’re proud to offer a revolutionary product that’s powerful enough to kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria without harsh chemicals or alarming safety ratings. If you have any questions, please Contact Us or Send Us a Message on Facebook. We’re here to help.

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