Salmonellosis is the disease caused by infection with bacteria called Salmonella. In Australia, most Salmonella infections occur after eating contaminated food or sometimes after contact with another person with the infection. Safe food handling, including thorough cooking of meat, poultry and eggs, and good hand hygiene can prevent infection.

Last updated: 02 July 2022
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What is Salmonella?

Salmonellosis is the disease caused by infection with bacteria called Salmonella. In Australia, most Salmonella infections occur after eating contaminated food or sometimes after contact with another person with the infection.

What are the symptoms of Salmonella?

Symptoms of Salmonella infection include headache, fever, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms often start 6-72 hours after exposure to the bacteria and usually last for 4-7 days but can sometimes last much longer.

How is Salmonella spread?

Salmonella bacteria are mainly spread to humans through under-cooked food made from infected animals (that is, meat, poultry, eggs, and their by-products). Spread by 'cross-contamination' occurs when Salmonella contaminates ready to eat food: for example, when food that will not be cooked further is cut with a contaminated knife. Salmonella bacteria can spread from person-to-person if hands are not washed properly, particularly when preparing foood. It can also be spread from animals to humans.

Who is at risk of Salmonella?

Anyone can get Salmonella. Infants, the elderly, and people with poor immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

How is Salmonella prevented?

Cooking

Thorough cooking of food kills Salmonella. Avoid raw or undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs. Poultry and meat - such as hamburgers, sausages, and rolled roasts - should be cooked until there is no pink visible in the middle.

Hand washing

Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after going to the toilet, changing nappies, touching animals, before and after handling food and before eating. Particular attention should be given to the area under the fingernails and between fingers. 

Infected food handlers can shed large numbers of Salmonella. They should not handle or serve food until 48 hours after the diarrhoea has stopped.

Temperature control

Poor food storage can allow Salmonella to grow. Refrigerated food should be kept at less than five degrees Celsius. Hot foods should be kept hot at above 60 degrees Celsius. Reheated foods should be quickly reheated until all parts of the food are steaming hot. Thawing frozen foods should be done in a fridge or microwave. The longer you leave food at room temperature the more Salmonella can multiply.

Food handling and contamination

To prevent the contamination of food:

  • store raw foods (such as meat) in sealed containers in the bottom of the fridge or freezer to prevent any fluid dripping or spilling onto other ready to eat food. Cover all foods in the refrigerator and freezer to protect them from contamination
  • use different chopping boards, trays, utensils and plates when preparing raw foods and ready to eat food. If you have only one chopping board wash it well in hot soapy water before reuse
  • thoroughly wash all dirt off any raw vegetables and fruits before preparing and eating them
  • dry dishes with a different cloth to that used for wiping hands or bench tops and wash dish cloths regularly. 

How is Salmonella diagnosed?

Diagnosis made by collecting a stool (poo) sample to test for the bacteria. 

How is Salmonella treated?

Most people recover without medical treatment by geting lots of rest and drinking plent of fluids such as water or oral hydration drinks (from your pharmacist). Most people recover within about a week. 

You should see a doctor if: 

  • symptoms last longer than a few days
  • diarrhea is severe or bloody
  • a fever over 38.5 degrees Celsius that lasts longer than a day
  • the sick person is at risk for severe Salmonella (young children, older people, and people with poor immune systems).
Most people do not need antibiotics. Antibiotics may be prescribed for young children or older people. Some people may require hospitalisation. 

What is the public health response to Salmonella?

Laboratories are required to notify cases of Salmonella infection to the local Public Health Unit. The public health units investigate clusters of cases to try and identify common links. Where a common food is implicated the NSW Food Authority will undertake a further environmental investigation and initiate control measures. Statistics on cases are used to help develop prevention strategies.

The NSW Food Authority is responsible for a range of food safety strategies to prevent salmonellosis and other food borne infections.

For more information

If you need non-urgent medical advice call healthdirect for free (24 hours) on 1800 022 222 or speak to your local pharmacist. 

If you need to contact your local Public Health Unit, call 1300 066 055 or visit the NSW Health website

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