More than 200 million eggs are being recalled because of salmonella - here's what the illness is and how to avoid it

eggs salmonella supermarket grocery


  • More than 200 million eggs were recalled from supermarkets because they may have been contaminated with salmonella.
  • Salmonella infections sicken 1.2 million people in the US every year, leading to 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths.
  • Infections are most common for young children. They're most severe for infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
  • Most cases resolve with rest and re-hydration after four to seven days, but some severe cases require antibiotics.

Every year in the US, about 1 million people get salmonella infections from food that's been contaminated by one of the many kinds of Salmonella bacteria.

In the latest widespread incident, more than 200 million eggs have been recalled from supermarkets and grocery chains including Food Lion and Walmart. So far, at least 22 illnesses related to the contaminated eggs have been reported, according to the FDA.Advertisement

Eggs and dairy products are one of the most common sources of the foodborne illness, but infections with salmonella - which cause an illness known as salmonellosis - also come from poultry, meat, unpasteurized milk, cheese, fruits, vegetables, spices, and nuts, among other things.

Recently, an outbreak linked to the herbal supplement kratom sickened at least 132 people in 38 states. Some people also get sick by interacting with animals, especially reptiles, amphibians, and birds.


How people get infected with salmonella and how the infection can be treated

According to the CDC, there are roughly 1.2 million cases of salmonella infections each year in the US. These cause an average of 23,000 annual hospitalizations and 450 deaths. Children - especially those under age 5 - are at the highest risk, and illness caused by these infections is most severe for infants, the elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

When a person eats food that's been contaminated with one of the 2,300 types of salmonella bacteria, they can get sick. The two most common types found in the US, Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella typhimurium, account for about half of human infections.The bacteria itself lives in the intestinal tract of animals. When animal feces contaminate meat, poultry, or dairy products, the bacteria spread. Cross-contamination can occur when produce or other foods come into contact with the bacteria.Advertisement

Most people who get sick develop diarrhea, a fever, and abdominal cramps within 8 to 72 hours. Usually, people are sick for four to seven days. Most recover without treatment aside from rest and rehydration, though it can take several months for bowel movements to normalize.

In particularly severe cases, diarrhea can get bad enough that people need to be hospitalized. If the infection spreads from the intestines into the bloodstream, it can be fatal if not treated with antibiotics. A small number of cases can also cause joint pain from reactive arthritis, which can last for months or years.

People attend a cooking workshop for Germans and migrants in Berlin, Germany, January 30, 2016.  REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

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The most effective ways to prevent infection with salmonella are keeping surfaces and hands clean and cooking foods properly.


How to prevent infection

Since salmonella infections can be so severe, food safety experts recommend taking a variety of steps to prevent infection.

Animal products should be kept separate from other foods in grocery carts and refrigerators. Foods should be cooked to safe temperatures to kill pathogenic bacteria. According to the USDA, raw beef, pork, lamb, and veal should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and ground meat should be cooked to 160 degrees. Poultry should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees, and eggs to 160. Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours (or one hour in very hot conditions).

Thorough hand-washing and cleaning of counters and utensils is also important for preventing food-borne illness. Since sponges and cloth towels can often become hotbeds of bacteria, the USDA recommends using paper towels while cleaning surfaces that have come into contact with animal products.Advertisement

If you do get sick, your doctor can diagnose your condition to see whether it's caused by salmonella or another bacteria.

To find out whether any eggs in your refrigerator are impacted by the current recall, read the FDA's full list of brands.