In wake of Goldfish recall, 5 things to know about salmonella
chicagotribune.com by Kate Thayer July 24, 2018
As food recalls become routine with warnings of bacteria in produce, the latest salmonella outbreak affects a surprising food — crackers.
On Monday, Pepperidge Farm voluntarily recalled four varieties of its Goldfish crackers — a popular snack for kids — saying the whey powder to season the snacks could be contaminated with salmonella bacteria. This announcement came on the heels of a similar announcement Saturday from Deerfield-based Mondelez Global recalling 16 kinds of Ritz Bitz and Ritz Cracker Sandwiches for potential whey contamination.
As of Tuesday, no illnesses were reported in either of the recent cracker outbreaks. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring a multistate salmonella outbreak involving Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal. Since last month when the cereal recall began, 100 people in 33 states, including one in Illinois, have reported getting sick, according to the CDC.
The recalls follow several other warnings of salmonella contamination this year, including pre-cut melon and raw sprouts, that had consumers avoiding certain spots in their produce aisles. While food safety experts say there isn’t necessarily an increase in contaminated food cases — food manufacturers now are better able to identify and report problems — it’s still important for consumers to educate themselves.
Here are five things to know about salmonella and the latest outbreaks:
Where salmonella comes from
Salmonella is a “pretty ubiquitous organism … so it’s almost impossible to eliminate completely from the environment,” said Scott Martin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor emeritus of microbiology.
While most people think of salmonella living inside raw poultry, the bacteria also is excreted by birds, so it can land on produce growing in farms or inside greenhouses, or in the water used to feed livestock, Martin said. This is also how it can get into the water used to irrigate crops, he said, leading to fruit and vegetable recalls.
“Salmonella is out there, and I don’t think we’ll ever totally eliminate it,” he said.
How dry goods can become contaminated
Matthew Stasiewicz, assistant professor of applied food safety at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said there are two possible scenarios. The milk used to make whey powder — an ingredient in a variety of food products — could be contaminated with the bacteria, or the equipment or factories that manufacture the foods could be contaminated.
“The main thing is that no system is a perfect, closed system,” he said. “In a processing plant, food products are coming in, but so is equipment, so are people. You could track soil in on shoes.”
The food industry “takes a lot of precautions … but obviously there’s many, many ways things can come through the cracks,” he added.
High cooking temperatures used to pasteurize milk and cook meat can kill salmonella. But if a product — like the whey derived from milk — is contaminated after that process, the bacteria can survive, Martin said. This could be how salmonella continued to live on the whey powder used in the seasoning responsible for the latest potential Goldfishcracker contamination, he added.
“It can survive in a dry environment. It can’t thrive, but it can exist,” Martin said.
What you should throw out
The latest recall affects only certain varieties of Goldfish and Riz crackers, and the company urges consumers to throw away those items.
Stasiewicz said food manufacturers are able to identify contaminated foods not just by variety but by batches, and are good at tracking those items. But while it’s easy for consumers to toss those specific foods, there also have been cases of “recall creep,” he said, when companies have discovered a contaminated ingredient was used elsewhere and later have expanded their recall list.
Whether consumers should be more cautious and avoid more than just the specific variety of food on the recall list will be based on “your own tolerance for risk,” Stasiewicz said. “Maybe if it’s for your children or for an elderly person, you might want to be more cautious.”
But a food that is recalled doesn’t necessarily mean it can make you sick, Stasiewicz added. “Even if contamination exists, likely it’s rare and at low levels.” And “if you’ve eaten one of the recalled products, there’s no guarantee you’ll (get sick).”
Symptoms of illness
If someone has consumed a food contaminated with salmonella and gets sick, the most common symptoms are diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps from 12 to 72 hours after infection, according to the CDC. The illness typically lasts four to seven days, Most people recover without treatment, but some may become so dehydrated they require hospitalization.
Stasiewicz notes that children, the elderly and the immune suppressed are typically most at risk. The CDC estimates that salmonella causes 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the U.S. every year. Food is the source in about 1 million of these cases.
Martin said the best defense against food contamination — other than avoiding recalled products — is to thoroughly wash produce and to follow other common food safety guidelines, like cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Future of food safety
In light of outbreaks and recalls involving processed food products, food safety experts continue to search for solutions, said Stasiewicz.
“The issue of salmonella contaminating dry and powdered products is an active area of research,” he said.
If salmonella contaminates a dry good, it’s more heat-resistant and harder to kill, said Stasiewicz, pointing out that most people don’t wash their crackers.
It’s caught the attention of food manufacturers, he said. “There’s been a lot of projects trying to understand where contamination is coming from and how best to treat dry products.”