An outbreak of Salmonella poisoning tied to dry pet food has prompted the Pennsylvania Department of Health to issue a warning to consumers about the safe handling of such food. Since January of 2006, at least 25 people have become ill with a rare strain of Salmonella called Schwarzengrund. Several of the victims have been children and infants, and nearly all of the cases have occurred in families where people have close contact with pets.
Salmonella is a potentially deadly type of food poisoning, symptoms of which included fever, abdominal pain, nausea, gas and bloody diarrhea. Symptoms appear within 36 hours of exposure, and usually last four to seven days. In very severe cases, Salmonella can lead to kidney failure and other complications. Salmonella can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Some victims of Salmonella will develop a disease called Reiterâ€™s Syndrome, a difficult- to- treat condition that causes severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. Reiterâ€™s Syndrome can plague its victims for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has not yet connected the Salmonella poisoning with any particular brand of food, and none of the infected individuals had eaten any dry pet food. Health officials in the state theorize that they became ill after handling the contaminated food, and then failing to wash their hands. To that end, the Department of Health has released guidelines for the safe handling of the food. First and foremost, the department is cautioning consumers to avoid buying food if the packaging is damaged. The notice also advises that pets be fed in an area other than a kitchen, and that anyone handling pet food should wash their hands with hot, soapy water when they are done. Likewise, pet food bowls, dishes and scooping utensils should also be washed after use. Dry food should be stored in a cool (under 80-degrees) dry place in its original bag or a container with a lid. Unused wet food should be refrigerated, and the thermostat should be no higher than 40-degrees. Any stale or spoiled food should be thrown away. To avoid cross contamination, pet food should not be stored or handled anywhere human food is stored or prepared. Pets should be kept away from food preparation areas and they should not be allowed near household trash or garbage.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health said that it is working in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration to determine the source of the Salmonella poisoning. There are usually around 2,000 cases of Salmonella in Pennsylvania each year. The Pennsylvania outbreak is only the latest bout of Salmonella poisoning to make news recently. In February, more than 600 people were sickened by Salmonella-tainted Peter Pan and Good Value brand peanut butters. This summer, another outbreak that sickened nearly 100 people was traced to seasoning used on Veggie Booty snack mix. And in July, over 700 people in the Chicago area became ill from Salmonella after they ate at the Pars Cove Restaurant food booth at the Taste of Chicago Food Festival.