Salmonella Outbreak: Children at Greater Risk

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Health officials urge consumers to take precautions in response to a nationwide salmonella outbreak in raw chicken.

“Children are at greater risk of contracting foodborne illnesses,” said Children’s National Health System pediatric dietitian Megan Barna, MS, RD.

Children younger than 5 years, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from the bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Forty-two percent of those who got sick have been hospitalized but the government shutdown has hampered the CDC response to the outbreak.

“Children account for approximately half of the reported cases of foodborne illnesses each year– that means about 24 million cases,” Barna said. Their small bodies play a part as well as their immune systems, which are “developing and that would impede their ability to fight infection.” Barna said it also takes a smaller amount of a pathogen to make them sick and children have less control of what they’re eating to ensure that it’s been cooked and handled properly.

“They also can have reduced stomach acid production that would decrease their ability to kill some of the bacteria,” Barna said, adding that they are also more susceptible to long-term effects such as arthritis and eye irritation “that last even past the point of infection.”

As of Friday morning, there weren’t any deaths linked to the outbreak. There are seven strains of salmonella Heidelberg; “some are resistant to some commonly used antibiotics,” making it a very complex" outbreak, USA Today reported, citing a CDC spokeswoman.

Poorly cooked chicken from California poultry farms are linked to the bacteria that has sickened more than 300 people in 20 states, mostly in California. As of late last week, 25 percent of Foster Farms’ poultry tested positive for salmonella, ABC News reported last Thursday. Costco in south San Francisco recalled rotisserie chicken products due to the salmonella outbreak.

“While this outbreak involves chicken, families should be concerned about how they handle and prepare any raw meat and seafood, Barna said.

“We really want to be on high alert for all of those things,” she said.

“It is good to follow food safety practices to avoid foodborne illnesses,” Barna said, adding that “it is good to be on guard” and the upcoming holiday party season poses potential risks of consuming foods that have been sitting out too long or undercooked.

“Foodborne illness is one of the most preventative things we have to deal with,” she said.

Citing the CDC and USDA, Barna offers four steps to keep in mind to avoid foodborne illnesses:

  • Clean. Wash hands in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Also, wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops that come into contact with raw foods, and sanitize food contact surfaces with a solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water.
  • Separate. Keep all raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods while shopping in a store and, once home, in the refrigerator. Barna said it might help to “keep a separate grocery bag for meat items that you take into the store and wash regularly.” Try to use one cutting board for fresh produce and another one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood and avoid placing cooked food on a plate that once held raw meat, poultry, or seafood, she said.
  • Cook. Cook poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F or higher as measured with a food thermometer. “Always think about keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold,” she said.
  • Chill. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers within two hours (or one hour if temperatures are above 90°F). At parties, Barna said, she’s always the “fun one asking how long food has been sitting out and putting food in the ‘frig’.”

Barna also suggested utilizing tools such as food safety charts and a home food safety app to reduce the risk of food poisoning; they help consumers determine if leftovers are safe to eat or if it’s time to toss.


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