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What is salmonella?

Salmonella is a type of bacteria (germ) that can cause intestinal (bowel) illness in humans and animals called salmonellosis.  Everyone needs to protect themselves against salmonella, but the risk of salmonellosis is greatest for young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

How do people catch salmonella?

People usually catch salmonella by eating contaminated food that was raw or not cooked properly and drinking contaminated beverages. Foods that can cause salmonella infection include chicken, eggs, other meats, fresh vegetables, sprouted seeds, and peanut butter. Contact with animals (pet chickens, dogs, and cats) and reptiles (turtles and iguanas) that carry the bacteria is another way in which salmonella may be transmitted.  Fortunately thorough cooking kills the bacteria and good handwashing helps stop the spread of salmonella.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually begin 12 to 72 hours after the germs are swallowed. Symptoms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting, usually lasting 4-7 days.

How do you know if you have salmonella?

Your healthcare provider can send a stool (feces) sample to a laboratory.  The laboratory will test the sample for salmonella bacteria. 

How is the illness treated?

Most people recover on their own or only require fluids to prevent dehydration.  Antibiotics may be used to treat salmonella infection in people who cannot fight off the illness on their own. 

How can I prevent salmonella?

When preparing food treat raw eggs, chicken, and other meats as if they are contaminated and handle accordingly. 

  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds (time it by singing the happy birthday song twice) before and after handling food.
  • Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before cooking, packing or eating.
  • Clean all utensils to be used for cooking with soap and hot water.


  • Do not reuse marinade that you used for raw foods on cooked foods. Always marinate in the refrigerator,
  • Do not put cooked foods on the same plate as raw foods. 
  • Do not reuse utensils that have touched raw foods unless you are able to wash them with soap and hot water.
  • Keep raw meat, seafood and chicken away from other foods and wrapped properly to keep juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator not on the kitchen counter. Bacteria multiply more quickly at room temperature.
  • Check expiration dates of meats, chicken, fish, shellfish, milk and other products.


  • Use a food thermometer to make sure food is at a safe internal temperature
  • Click here for safe minimum cooking temperatures. 
  • Keep hot food hot by placing it on the stove top or grill rack.
  • Cook eggs until yolks and whites are firm, do not eat “runny” eggs.
  • If you are unsure how an item was prepared, ask how it was cooked.
  • Do not use unpasteurized milk or products (ex. cheese)


  • In hot weather between 40?°F- 90°F, food should not be outside for more than 2 hours, in weather of 90°F or more, food should never be left out for more than an hour.  Refrigerate leftover and unused portions promptly.
  • Keep your cooler full to maintain cold temperatures, keep it out of the sun and limit the number of times you open it.

Handwashing saves lives!

Wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet 

What if I have salmonella?

Most infected people may return to work or school once their diarrhea has resolved, provided they carefully wash their hands after using the bathroom. Keep in mind it is possible to give the bacteria to other’s even after feeling better. In order to protect the public, workers who handle food and health care workers must be cleared by your local health department before returning to work.

Boston Public Health Commission
1010 Massachusetts Ave, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02118.
Phone:(617) 534-5395 Email: