Washington Restaurant Market Watch: What you need to know about Salmonella

Washington Restaurant Market Watch:  What you need to know about Salmonella https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Salmonella-pork1000-940x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

Salmonella is very much on the minds of Washington’s restaurateurs.

Since May, more than 134 Salmonella cases have been identified in 10 Washington counties.

While restaurant operators are worried about it, so are the state’s health authorities.

This week the WRA’s Dine NW radio show interviewed Dr. Scott Lindquist, communicable diseases epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health, who is at the epicenter of the state’s effort to isolate Salmonella and stop its spread.

“Salmonella is a bacteria,” said Lindquist. “It’s a fairly common bacteria in the food world. The concern for Salmonella is that it can get inside the intestine of a human being and cause some damage.”

Salmonella infection has symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea that is sometimes bloody, fever, chills, muscle pains and headache. Recovery usually takes about a week, but some people who are infected require hospitalization. Over the long term, Salmonella infections can cause complications including irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, reactive arthritis, eye problems and heart disease. If you’ve eaten pork, especially from a whole roasted pig, and experience these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.

“If diarrhea lasts more than four to five days, then you should be concerned about a bacteria pathology,” said Lindquist.

One thing that’s particularly unsettling  about this outbreak is that it’s likely much larger than the 134 identified cases. According to Lindquist, for every person counted as a Salmonella case, there are 29 infected people who are uncounted because they never showed up at a health care provider’s office when they experienced the tell tale symptoms.

“We’re up over 130 cases at this point,” said Lindquist. “If you do that math – 130 times 29 – we’re up around 4,000 cases of people who are probably sick from this Salmonella outbreak.”

The current outbreak is clearly associated with whole pork. The main issues for restaurants are undercooking and contamination.

Lindquist emphasizes the necessity of training restaurant workers to know the final cooking temperatures for food. Pork requires 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another unsettling aspect of the current outbreak is that while whole pork has been the primary vehicle for transmitting the bacteria, there are some people with Salmonella infections who never ate pork. According to Lindquist, this is due to cross-contamination.

“Storing raw meat and seafood below and away from ready to eat food, like salad and cooked foods, is the key,” said Lindquist. “You cannot let this pork, whether its whole roasted pig or raw pork, into your restaurant and not prevent cross-contamination.”

Lindquist also urges anyone who handles food to be very careful about hand washing.

To learn more about best practices in food safety, check out the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe Manager certification program.

Lindquist is optimistic about the future course of the Salmonella outbreak.

“We’re already seeing a slowdown in the number of cases,” said Lindquist. “We’re already seeing a change in the behavior of restaurants and consumers, specifically with… being aware that Salmonella could be on pork, not contaminating with a raw meat, cooking to appropriate temperatures. It’s probably why we’re seeing fewer cases.”

For more information on the Salmonella outbreak and how you can protect your restaurant and your customers, visit the Washington State Department of Health’s website.