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  • Ask an Expert: Salmonella and Vegetables

  • Watch your veggies!
      Find out more:
            • Salmonellosis
            • Handwashing 101
            • More about food poisoning

    Can your vegetables make you sick? Steven LaRosa, MD, director of the Ocean State Clinical Coordinating Center at Rhode Island Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Brown Medical School, recently answered questions about salmonella and vegetables.

    • What is salmonella?
      Salmonella is a type of bacteria that usually causes gastrointestinal illnesses. Occasionally the bacteria can get into the bloodstream, leading to additional complications.
    • How do I get salmonellosis?
      You get salmonellosis from food and water contaminated with salmonella bacteria.
    • How does salmonella get in vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce?
      Vegetables can come into contact with contaminated water. A bacteria-carrying person who forgets to wash their hands before food preparation can contaminate vegetables. Vegetables can also become contaminated if placed in close proximity to or mixed with raw poultry, meat or eggs, and unpasteurized milk.
    • Which vegetables are most prone to contamination?
      There are no specific vegetables prone to salmonella contamination. Any vegetable, or fruit, even, may be contaminated if in close proximity to bacteria-carrying sources. For example, contaminated mangos and tomatoes each resulted in salmonella outbreaks in 1990, cantaloupes in 1991, and sprouts in 1996.
    • In what environments does salmonella grow best and worst?
      All bacteria grow poorly in cool or cold temperatures, so salmonella won't fare well in the freezer or refrigerator. The closer the temperature is to room temperature, the more likely it is that the bacteria will replicate.
    • What are the best methods of killing salmonella? Does cooking kill the bacteria on vegetables?
      The best way is to wash your hands, as well as all preparation surfaces and utensils that have previously come into contact with raw poultry, meat, and eggs, before preparing vegetables. Washing vegetables well should be enough to kill salmonella. By cooking any food product, including vegetables, the risk of contracting a bacteria-related infection goes down tremendously; however, is not eliminated.
    • What advice can you give people who like to eat their vegetables raw?
      The best advice is again to wash your hands before contact with vegetables and to keep the raw vegetables far away from possibly contaminated foods and surfaces, such as raw poultry, meat and eggs, and the cooking surfaces they have touched.
    • What can cause a widespread outbreak of salmonellosis?
      Bacteria-carrying animals or even produce workers could be responsible for the contamination.
    • If left untreated, is a salmonella infection fatal?
      Most cases of salmonella infections are not fatal. The odds of fatality increase if the infection enters the bloodstream, where the infection can spread to a blood vessel or bone. If the infection enters the bloodstream of those in high-risk groups, the fatality odds increase further.

    LaRosa suggests visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control online for more information about salmonella. Lifespan's Health Encyclopedia offers additional information about salmonella, as well as other illnesses, conditions and symptoms.

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