Eggs are back in the headlines this week. For a change, we’re not discussing their health benefits (the Atkins folks like them) or their heart risks (too much cholesterol). This week, we’re not really talking eggs at all. We’re discussing a small bacterium that is hitchhiking on some eggs – salmonella.
Salmonella is the unwanted guest of some Midwest industrial egg producer, and the FDA is pretty upset about this. You might be too.
Salmonella is a bug, or more properly a bacterium. It is one of many microscopic organisms that can cause illness in humans.
Salmonella is not always a problem. There are people walking around right now with salmonella bacteria in their colons, perhaps as many as 25% of us. These people are not sick, and do not have diarrhea. It all depends on the dose. A few salmonella living peacefully in your colon is fine, but let them be the majority organism and diarrhea will soon follow.
Salmonella enters the body by eating food contaminated with live salmonella bacteria. Like everything we eat, it is chewed and dropped into an acid vat (your stomach). This acid bath kills most bacteria, including salmonella, by the time the partially digested food leaves the stomach. Like I said, it is all a matter of dose. Eat something with heavy salmonella contamination, and enough will survive your stomach to make it into your colon. There, they will rapidly multiply and a rather nasty case of diarrhea will occur. Since this is from an active infection in the colon, the diarrhea often contains blood and puss.
In adults this is a very uncomfortable disease but not a deadly one. Most adults beat salmonella with a brief course of oral antibiotics and fluid replacement, like your favorite sports drink. Adults usually recover rapidly.
Like so many other illnesses, salmonella hits young children and the immuno-compromised much harder. They sometimes need hospitalization for hydration and treatment.
Avoiding salmonella sounds like advice from a food handler’s course. It is commonly present on raw chicken as well as eggs. Never eat chicken raw, or use a utensil used on raw chicken without first washing it. All those restaurants’ menus with warnings against eating undercooked meat or fish are not just conversational. They are meant to help you avoid salmonella. Meat has to get to 140 degrees for 30 minutes to kill salmonella. Cool, red centers in steaks do not do the job.
In the meantime, I’m not putting raw eggs in my smoothies for awhile.