By Melanie Fincher

Salmonella has been linked to several major recalls this year.

Home cooks and grocery stores around the U.S. have been affected by recent outbreaks of Salmonella. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the U.S. Out of all of these illnesses, one million of them are caused by food.

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Learn some of the telltale signs that you've been infected by Salmonella, as well as how to protect yourself against it.

What Is Salmonella Caused By?

Salmonella is bacteria that live in the intestines of people, animals, and birds — meaning it is often spread through feces. When contaminated feces gets into the water supply that's used to irrigate crops, those crops can carry that bacteria to the market.

Raw meat can also be contaminated during the process of harvesting, butchering, or packaging the product. Eggs can be contaminated when infected chickens pass the bacteria onto the eggs they lay. All foods are susceptible to contamination when prepared by people who don't wash their hands thoroughly especially after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or touching an animal, too.

What Is Salmonella Poisoning?

Salmonella is a bacteria that makes people sick when it comes into contact with your mouth, resulting in what is known as Salmonella poisoning or salmonellosis. Salmonella poisoning is quite common, with tens of millions of reported cases around the world each year. Humans are most frequently infected through contaminated food or water, although poor sanitation can also be the cause.

Those at the highest risk of Salmonella poisoning include children, older adults, or anyone with a weakened immune system. Your risk of Salmonella poisoning increases when you travel to countries with poor sanitation. Often times, people with Salmonella poisoning have no symptoms, but more severe cases can require medical treatment and even hospitalization.

What Are the Symptoms of Salmonella?

Some people can carry the bacteria into the digestive tract without illness, but often times people with Salmonella poisoning will develop diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection. The illness typically lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.

However, in severe cases, diarrhea can lead to dehydration so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. In these cases, the bacteria moves from the intestines to the bloodstream, which can lead to life-threatening complications.

How to Prevent Salmonella in Your Kitchen

The bad news is: you can't tell if your food has Salmonella based on appearance, smell, or even taste. However, you can take precautions to protect yourself against Salmonella poisoning, according to the CDC:

Cook to the right temperature:

  • Cook all poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly to kill the bacteria. Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees F or colder, and refrigerate all leftovers within two hours.

Keep a clean kitchen:

  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water thoroughly before, during, and after food — especially after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, handling raw meat or poultry, cleaning up pet feces, or touching pets.
  • Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Don't wash raw meat or eggs before cooking, as this can spread bacteria around your kitchen.
  • Sanitize all food contact surfaces using a solution of one tablespoon bleach and one gallon of water.

Keep foods separated:

  • Store raw meat separate from other foods in your refrigerator.
  • Keep eggs stored in the main part of the refrigerator, not the door.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and produce.
  • Do not place cooked food on an unwashed plate that held raw meat.

How to Recover from Salmonella Poisoning

Most people recover from Salmonella poisoning without medical treatment, but sometimes antibiotics are used to treat people with severe illness.

It's important to stay hydrated if you have Salmonella poisoning — focus on replacing fluids and electrolytes! According to the CDC, you should call your doctor if you have signs of dehydration, prolonged vomiting, bloody stool, diarrhea for more than three days, or diarrhea and a fever over 102 degrees F.

Related: 10 Tips from the CDC for Preventing Food Poisoning

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