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Last updated January 1, 2014

Salmonella Breaks Out Into New Veggie Venue

©1996 KnightRidder News Service, Republican-American, May 28, 1996


Dallas - If the possibility of salmonella has made you chicken about your lunch , here's a little more to chew on.

The bacterium has become infamous for its contamination of much of the country's poultry and eggs. But while it prefers the innards of animals, salmonella could hardly be called a finicky eater.

Public health officials are concerned that more and more salmonellosis cases are being traced to produce and other foods. For instance, one outbreak last year was borne on alfalfa sprouts, and another was caused by tainted orange juice.

These circumstances are not flukes, health experts say. They worry that the problem reflects changes in American eating habits and food production that re making it easier for bacteria to reach the dinner table.

"We have to begin to take a whole new look at how we're going to address food safety," said Dr. Mike Osterholm of the Minnesota Department of Health, a longtime advocate for better food safeguards.

For most healthy people, a dose of salmonella will usually cause little more than a bout with diarrhea. Concern over contamination, however is more than a matter of convenience for the growing number of Americans who are very young or elderly, and therefore more sensitive to the infection. Also, many people have weakened immune systems due to AIDS, cancer or organ transplantation. For them, salmonellosis can be fatal.

The number of reported cases of salmonella poisoning has roughly doubled since the late 1960's, from about 20,000 a year to about 40,000. However, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that they hear of only about 1 percent of 5 percent of all cases.

Poultry and poultry products are still most often the culprit behind the country's most common foodborne infection. But Osterholm and his colleagues are watching warily as the number of produce-related outbreaks rises.

Experts believe that much of the problem has to do with both changes in American's eating habits and in its food delivery system. For example, Osterholm said, the country's fruits and vegetables increasingly now are shipped to grocery store bins from developing countries.

"This is the same food that if you went to that country I'd tell you, "Boil it, peel it or don't eat it," he said. "You don't have to travel to get travelers' diarrhea.

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