Malt-O-Meal brand cereals suffered a setback last week as they became one of the ever-increasing lists of companies who have had to recall their food products due to a salmonella outbreak. Their unsweetened Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat cereals had to be recalled after a reported 23 people in 14 states became ill, according to bizjournals. Fortunately only 3 people had to be hospitalized, and none of those were considered near death. The FDA has asked that anyone who has these products, which have an expiry date of April 8, 2008 to March 18, 2009, either return them for a refund or discard them outright.
Salmonella is a potentially serious bacterial infection that can be life threatening, particularly in the very young, elderly or immuno-compromised. According to the FDA website some 2 to 4 million people are infected in the US every year, and the incidence is rising.
Several years ago, I was privy to the effects of salmonella. Working in a small, privately owned exotic animal store with a primary specialty in reptiles, salmonella was a constant risk, and one well known by all who worked with me. Caution was exercised…mostly. However, as a small store as a very young adult, it was difficult to assure constant caution and errors did happen. Since the store was so small, I often worked there alone. Customers came regardless of whether or not it was my lunchtime, and we could not afford to close the store for any span of time. Therefore, if someone came in and needed something, I had to address that first, and go back to my lunch later.
With such strict time constraints on lunch, and an increasingly laid back attitude towards salmonella and other potential issues, it was likely that an error would be made. Which it was. For two days, I suffered from severe stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and a fever. At first, I believed that I had come down with some sort of stomach bug, though I did not know the absolute accuracy of that self-diagnosis until later. No one else around me was ill. I handled something, probably a snake or a lizard, and went back to eating my lunch without washing my hands. One of the easiest ways to contract salmonella is by neglecting to adhere to strict sanitation principles. Soap and water can be wonderful deterrents to almost any nasty bug, but this basic principle escaped my attention on the day in question, and I certainly suffered for it.
Although I did not have to be hospitalized, I certainly felt the effects of the salmonella bug. Violently ill for nearly 48 hours, I learned the valuable lesson that there’s always time for a quick hand wash. Had I bothered to run into the restroom for a moment to wash my hands with antibacterial soap, or used a hand sanitizer, I likely could have avoided the illness.
Now, though, with salmonella popping up in so many different sources, it’s harder to know how to be careful. When you handle animals, you should always wash your hands before you do anything else. But how does one combat against the potential for salmonella in one’s food? Care must be taken to follow the latest recalls. For foods where salmonella commonly occurs and can be prevented, such as chicken and eggs, keeping a tidy work surface and using soap and water everywhere the food particles may have touched can help keep you safe from harm. With a toddler in the house, we’re particularly careful to wash all surfaces as carefully as possible. Unfortunately, there’s not much to be done for things such as cereal besides being cautious. If someone, particularly a young child or an elderly or immuno-compromised person, becomes quickly and violently ill, it is always worth a check from the doctor, just to be on the safe side.
For me, I learned much from my experience with salmonella, but it would have been better to learn the easy way. If I had attended to my knowledge base regarding salmonella, I would not have had to suffer in the first place.