Does Cooking Kill Salmonella?

Here's what you need to know.

If you keep track of food recalls, you've probably seen Salmonella in the news before. Recently, a large Salmonella outbreak was traced to imported onions. Salmonella was also the culprit behind large lettuce recalls in recent years.

Salmonella is the most common type of bacteria that causes food poisoning, and it's one of the reasons people are advised against eating raw or undercooked meat and eggs.

If you eat food that contains the potentially dangerous bacteria, you might experience symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. For some people, a Salmonella infection can even be deadly.

Continue reading to learn how Salmonella spreads, which foods typically carry Salmonella, and whether you can kill Salmonella by cooking the infected food.

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Photo by SAUL LOEB/Getty Images.

What Is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a bacterium that can live in a person's or animal's intestines. If ingested, it can cause gastrointestinal (GI) system distress. It is typically released from the body through feces, and it usually spreads to other hosts that come into contact with contaminated food or water.

In addition to infected foods, you can pick up Salmonella by touching infected animals, mishandling their feces, or by being in their environment without proper hygiene practices.

What Is Salmonella Poisoning?

Salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, is a type of food poisoning that affects your GI system. Most people that come into contact with Salmonella don't develop symptoms at all, but those with weaker immune systems, such as children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people, and those who take certain medications, such as stomach acid reducer, are more likely to develop symptoms.

Most people will develop symptoms of a Salmonella infection between eight and 72 hours after consuming the bacteria, and these ailments will last for several days.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection include:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal cramps
  • fever
  • chills
  • bloody stool
  • nausea

It's rare, but a Salmonella infection can sometimes lead to more severe ailments when it enters the bloodstream and travels to other organs.

Does Cooking Kill Salmonella?

The short answer: Yes, cooking can kill Salmonella.

Depending on the type of food, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend cooking food to a temperature between 145 degrees F and 165 degrees F to kill Salmonella.

However, preventative actions, such as throwing food out after recalls, properly cleaning them before cooking, and practicing good kitchen hygiene, are safer options. If a recall advises you to dispose of a product that might contain Salmonella, it's best to listen to the FDA.

Which Foods Have Salmonella?

Salmonella is most likely to appear in:

  • raw eggs
  • raw meat
  • undercooked meat
  • undercooked egg products

Foods that contain these ingredients, such as raw cookie dough, are also susceptible to Salmonella. (Note: Most prepared cookie doughs you find at the grocery store are now safe to eat raw. From-scratch cookie dough that contains eggs is still not safe to eat raw.)

Fruits and vegetables can also carry Salmonella, and it can even be found in processed items like roasted peanuts or pet food.

How to Prevent Salmonella Infection

  • Clean: Cleanliness is one of the best ways to prevent Salmonella. Since Salmonella travels through feces, it's especially important to wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom, after coming in contact with animals or possibly infected foods, and after handling raw foods.
  • Cook: Cook your food to a temperature ranging between 145 and 165 degrees F to kill bacteria, including Salmonella. The CDC advises against cooking or storing food in the danger zone between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, which will cause bacteria to multiply.
  • Be proper: Maintaining proper food safety practices is another way to help prevent Salmonella in your household. Wash your hands and utensils, such as cutting boards, with soap and warm water after they come into contact with raw meat and eggs. You can also designate certain kitchen tools for use only with raw meat.
  • Disinfect: Disinfect kitchen countertops regularly, especially if they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Wash up: Wash your hands after handling different types of food, such as meat and produce, to prevent cross-contamination between ingredients.
  • Divide: When bagging groceries, keep raw meat separated from other items.
  • Measure: Cook and pasteurize your food at high temperatures to ensure that you are killing the bacteria.

What to Do if You Think You Have a Salmonella Infection

Most people with a Salmonella infection will recover on their own, without the need of medical help. However, it is still important you care for yourself so you can recover quickly.

If you've eaten a food that's been recalled, or if you suspect you have a Salmonella infection, follow these steps:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids. If you begin vomiting or have diarrhea, the extra fluid will be important to prevent dehydration.
  2. Don't take medicines to stop vomiting or diarrhea unless told to by a health care professional. Your body needs to eliminate the bacteria.
  3. Wash and dry your hands after using the toilet. Limit contact with other members of your household, or use hand sanitizing gel to reduce the possibility of spreading the bacteria.
  4. Give someone else cooking duty until you've been symptom free for 24 to 48 hours.
  5. Remove and wash any sheets or clothes that may be soiled by vomit or diarrhea.
  6. Wipe down shared spaces and any surfaces you've touched with a disinfectant wipe.
  7. Visit your doctor or an emergency department if symptoms last longer than five days or if they worsen.

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