Salmonella Infection and Food Poisoning: Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD
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Salmonella food poisoning is a type of infection caused by the Salmonella bacteria. Symptoms of a foodborne Salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Salmonella infections are also called “salmonellosis.” There are around 1.35 million Salmonella infections in the United States each year. About 26,500 cases require hospitalization, and close to 420 people die from a Salmonella infection.

Read on to find out more about symptoms and treatments, as well as how doctors diagnose Salmonella poisoning and how to prevent it.

What are the types of Salmonella infection?

There is a basket of raw chicken.
Juan Moyano/Stocksy United

Most types of Salmonella bacteria cause salmonellosis, which is characterized by gastrointestinal illness and fever. This is also known as Salmonella food poisoning or Salmonella foodborne illness, as it can spread through contaminated, raw, or undercooked food.

Other types of Salmonella include Salmonella Typhi and Salmonella Paratyphi. These cause typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever respectively.

This article focuses on salmonellosis. You can learn more about typhoid fever here.

What causes Salmonella infection?

Salmonella infection or food poisoning occurs as a result of Salmonella bacteria. The bacteria can cause an infection if you ingest them.

There are different ways that you can get salmonellosis from Salmonella bacteria, including:

Handling food improperly

You can get salmonellosis by consuming food that has been prepared by a person who has not washed their hands.

Eating certain foods

Certain foods can be contaminated with Salmonella, such as:

  • raw or uncooked meat and poultry
  • raw or uncooked eggs and dough
  • dairy products
  • raw sprouts
  • unwashed fruits and vegetables

Handling certain animals

Handling certain animals may cause a Salmonella infection, including:

  • poultry
  • snakes
  • turtles
  • lizards
  • frogs
  • cats
  • dogs

Handling pets

You can get an infection by handling pets that have eaten food contaminated with Salmonella.

Learn more about causes of food poisoning.

What are the symptoms of a Salmonella infection?

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection or food poisoning include:

  • diarrhea, which may or may not be bloody
  • fever
  • stomach cramps

Some people may also experience:

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection occur about 12–72 hours after the bacteria enter your body. They persist for around 4–7 days, and for most people symptoms will improve without treatment.

How is a Salmonella infection treated?

Most people recover from symptoms of a Salmonella infection without requiring specific treatment. The infection tends to last around 4–7 days.

If you have a Salmonella infection, it is important to drink enough fluids, particularly while you experience diarrhea. Drinking enough fluids can help to prevent dehydration. Learn about the signs of dehydration.

For some people, a doctor may recommend antibiotics. This includes:

  • people with a weakened immune system or severe illness
  • people over the age of 50 with a medical problem, such as heart disease
  • children under the age of 12 months
  • people aged 65 or older

Find out about what to expect when recovering from food poisoning.

When should I contact a doctor?

Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • diarrhea and fever over 102ºF (38.8ºC)
  • diarrhea for more than 3 days
  • bloody stool
  • prolonged vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down
  • signs of dehydration, including producing very little urine, dry mouth or throat, and dizziness when standing up

How are Salmonella infections diagnosed?

In order to diagnose a Salmonella infection, your doctor will take a sample of either stool, body tissue, or blood. This will be sent to a laboratory for testing.

Is Salmonella contagious?

Salmonella is contagious. Someone with a Salmonella infection can pass on the bacteria if they handle or prepare food without washing their hands.

Salmonella can also spread by cross-contamination. It is important to use separate cutting boards for meats and other foods. Alternatively, make sure to thoroughly wash cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used for preparing meat before handling other foods.

What are the risk factors for Salmonella infection?

Certain people are more likely to experience a severe Salmonella infection. This includes:

What are the complications of having a Salmonella infection?

Some people may experience complications from a Salmonella infection. This can include changes in bowel habits that last for a few months.

It is also possible to experience reactive arthritis following a Salmonella infection. This is pain in the joints. It can last for months or years and may cause eye irritation and pain when urinating.

Can I prevent Salmonella poisoning?

There are steps that you can take to help prevent a Salmonella infection. These include:

  • washing areas that come into contact with contaminated foods, such as inside the refrigerator, cutting boards, and countertops
  • washing your hands with soap and warm water
  • avoiding foods that have been known to cause Salmonella food poisoning, such as raw sprouts
  • refrigerating or freezing foods, as Salmonella bacteria grow in warmer conditions

Frequently asked questions

Here are some other frequently asked questions about Salmonella.

What color is poop with Salmonella?

If you experience bloody diarrhea with a Salmonella infection, it can have a red appearance. Learn more about bloody diarrhea.

How long after you eat do you get Salmonella?

Symptoms of Salmonella usually begin within 12–72 hours.

Summary

Salmonella bacteria cause foodborne Salmonella infection or food poisoning. You can get Salmonella poisoning by eating raw or undercooked foods or by handling certain animals.

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. To help prevent an infection, it is important to wash your hands and always clean surfaces and utensils after handling meat.

Most people with a Salmonella infection recover in about 4–7 days without specific treatment. However, some people may benefit from a course of antibiotics.

Contact your doctor if you have concerns about Salmonella bacteria or infection.

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Medical Reviewer: Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 23
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