QUESTION: Last week it was onions, and now this week peaches have been recalled due to salmonella. What is salmonella, and how do fruits and vegetables get contaminated with it?
ANSWER: Good question. First, let’s look at the current recall that was linked to loose or bagged peaches packed or supplied by Prima Wawona or Wawona Packing Company LLC, according to an Aug. 27 alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The peaches, which were sold in many large retailers, including Aldi, Target, Walmart, and Kroger, were recalled due to potential contamination with salmonella enteritidis. A list of the impacted fruit can be found here. The peaches recall occurs as a nationwide onion recall—also due to salmonella contamination—was expanded Aug. 18 to include more onions and some food made with onions.
So, what is salmonella and how does food become contaminated with it?
Salmonella are a group of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness and fever called salmonellosis, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
And while there are many ways pathogens such as salmonella can contaminate foods, one frequent way is through contact with fecal matter, said Sanja Ilic, food safety state specialist with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
This can happen on farm fields, where animal feces can spread disease to produce.
For example, if food is made from grain or produce that has come into contact with animal feces in the field or in the soil in which it is grown, or if the grain or produce comes into contact with water that contains the pathogen, salmonella can be transferred from the feces onto the grain or produce, Ilic said.
There are also numerous points along any supply chain where fruits and vegetables or other food produce can be infected with illness-causing bacteria. For example, salmonella can spread at the food manufacturing plant if a contaminated ingredient comes into contact with equipment that then touches other foods, she said.
In restaurants and other food service entities, for example, salmonella can be spread by food handlers who do not wash their hands and/or the surfaces and tools they use between food preparation steps, and when people eat raw or undercooked foods.
Salmonella can also be spread in one’s own home, where raw meat or eggs can cross-contaminate with other groceries, Ilic said.
Pets can also spread the bacteria within a home if they eat food contaminated with salmonella, the FDA says.
Foods that have been linked to salmonella outbreaks in the U.S. have included meat products, poultry products, raw or undercooked eggs and dough, flour, cereal, dairy products, fruits, leafy greens, raw sprouts, fresh vegetables, nut butters and spreads, and pet foods and treats, according to the FDA.
Cooking foods to their recommended minimal temperatures kills salmonella and other pathogenic bacteria, Ilic said.
“However, when fresh produce items become contaminated with bacteria such as salmonella, this is of a particular concern, because these foods are consumed uncooked,” she said.
Salmonella infection can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within six hours to six days after being exposed to the bacteria, with the symptoms typically lasting four to seven days. In some people, including children, elderly people, and those who might have compromised immune systems, the disease can be so severe that it leads to hospitalization or even death, the CDC says.
Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or email@example.com.