Salmonella is a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of humans, chickens and other birds and mammals. Contracted through under-cooked poultry or eggs, it is a common concern to new chicken keepers. But should you be worried about contracting salmonella from your flock? Here are some facts about the disease and how to prevent a salmonella outbreak in your flock.
Salmonella symptoms in humans include cramps, diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever and/or headaches. The symptoms generally appear within 6-72 hours of eating contaminated food, can last up to a week and can be fatal for the elderly, sick, those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women and children.
Symptoms in chicks or chickens include weak and lethargic birds, loose yellow or green droppings, purplish combs and wattles, a drop in egg production, increased thirst, decreased feed consumption and weight loss. It can be deadly in hens if not treated, and chickens who survive it become carriers, potentially passing the bacteria to their chicks and eggs they lay.
Salmonella is usually spread to chickens through rat or mouse droppings in water, feed, damp soil or bedding/litter. It can then be transmitted to humans who eat improperly cooked meat or eggs from infected birds or by putting your hands in your mouth after touching chickens or eggs that have come in contact with contaminated rodent or chicken feces. Children under five years of age make up a large number of Salmonella cases, most likely from hand to mouth transmission of the bacteria.
Good personal hygiene as well as keeping a clean chicken coop and run are the best ways to prevent salmonella. Backyard biosecurity is critical to keeping Salmonella at bay. Cooking destroys it, so cook eggs properly before eating if you are concerned.
Here are some other tips to preventing the spread of salmonella:
-Buy chicks from reputable sources to lessen the chances they have the disease
-Always wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds after handling chicks, hens or eggs
-Teach children not to put their hands in their mouths, especially when around the chickens
-Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after being around your chickens
-Discard cracked or extremely dirty eggs
-Don't wash eggs when you collect them. Allow the natural 'bloom' to protect the inside of the egg from bacteria entering [Read more here about egg handling]
-Keep your flock's immune systems strong and your hens as healthy as possible
-Rinse eggs in warm water just prior to cooking them
-Cook eggs to at least 160 degrees so the whites are firm
-Cook poultry to at least 165 degrees so no pink remains and juices run clear
-Keep raw poultry separate from other foods and consider using a cutting board dedicated only to poultry
-Use paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces instead of sponges or dishcloths
Salmonella generally won't live inside an egg. If it has been transferred from an infected hen to the egg, it will be found in the egg white, which is an alkaline environment and doesn't contain the proper nutrients for the bacteria to thrive. However, the longer the egg sits out without being refrigerated or cooked, the greater chance the bacteria will move towards the yolk and eventually penetrate the yolk, who's nutrient-rich environment would allow the bacteria to grow.
The good news is that your backyard eggs, as long as proper precautions are taken, are unlikely to contain or transmit Salmonella to your family. The threat of Salmonella should NOT dissuade you from raising backyard chickens, handling them as often as possible OR cooking with your eggs.
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