How to protect yourself from salmonella poisoning

Health experts have flagged a recent rise in salmonella poisoning caused by backyard chooks. Which other common culprits should you watch out for?

The rise in popularity of backyard chickens has prompted the Food Safety Information Council to issue a warning about the risks of salmonella poisoning, or salmonellosis.

Several recent outbreaks across Australia have been partly linked to newly purchased chicks.

“There have been recent reports of increased sales of backyard chickens and chicks during the COVID-19 lockdown,” Food Safety Information Council chair Cathy Moir says.

“It’s great to have fresh eggs and for kids to learn about where their food comes from, but backyard chooks and ducks can be a source of salmonella infections which can cause serious illnesses.”

Symptoms and sources of salmonella

Symptoms of salmonellosis usually occur within six to 72 hours of eating contaminated food and can include diarrhoea, fever, headache, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and dehydration.

People usually recover after a few days.

As well as in backyard chooks, the bacteria can be found in undercooked meat, in raw or undercooked eggs and the kinds of foods that contain these products, such as raw egg mayonnaise and some desserts.

Salmonella can also be found in cooked food that comes into contact with the bacteria.

This cross-contamination can happen when cooked food is put on kitchen benches and chopping boards where contaminated food has been prepared, or when this food is touched by contaminated utensils.

Fruits and vegetables, like leafy salad vegetables, that come into contact with contaminated soil can also carry salmonella bacteria.

How to protect yourself against salmonella poisoning

“Have different chopping boards for food preparation – have a board for chicken, one for red meat, one for fish and one for salad and vegetables, and only use those boards for that purpose,” says Margaret Hay, of Dietitians Australia.

“Don’t cut salads on the board you’ve just used to cut raw chicken, for example. And once you’ve finished, wash the chopping board in hot, soapy water and dry it well.”

Salmonella can also grow in foods that aren’t stored at the right temperature, which can become a bigger problem in warmer weather if food is left out for a while.

“Cool foods should be stored below 5C and hot foods need to be above 60C,” says Margaret. “Don’t leave foods on the bench and don’t keep reheating foods.”

Other food safety tips:

  • Ensure raw chicken stored in the fridge is wrapped, so that its juices do not drip on to food below.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
  • Reheat leftovers only once, and only reheat the amount of food you want to eat.
  • Throw away food after it has been in the fridge for two to three days.

Tips for keeping backyard chickens

And if you do want to keep backyard chooks, the Food Safety Information Council recommends keeping nesting materials and litter clean and changing it regularly.

Eggs should be gathered daily to make sure they are fresh and stored in the fridge in a clean container away from other foods.

Wash hands thoroughly after handling chickens and eggs.

Written by Sarah Marinos