Salmonella can put your digestive tract in shambles for a few days. Needless to say, it’s a must to ensure that there is no salmonella present in food before you put it in your mouth. And this might leave you wondering if storing potentially contaminated food in the freezer can kill salmonella.
Freezing does not kill salmonella. However, it can deactivate the microbe, thus keeping it from growing and multiplying. Thawing frozen food products reactivates salmonella. This is why it’s a must to thoroughly cook contaminated food at greater than 150°F (65.55°C) to kill any salmonella present.
Getting food poisoning not an option? Then make sure that you read this article until the very end — we will discuss just about everything you need to know to keep salmonella at bay.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of animals. Needless to say, it can be transmitted through contact with the contaminated feces of infected animals. Salmonella is also the term used to refer to food poisoning, in particular one caused by the bacterium salmonella.
You can catch salmonella by eating raw or undercooked meat and eggs.
However, believe it or not, you can also suffer from salmonella by eating fruits, vegetables and even processed foods that are contaminated. This is especially true if you eat them without cooking them thoroughly beforehand.
Some of the possible signs and symptoms of salmonella include:
- Stomach cramps
- Blood in the stool
The various signs and symptoms associated with salmonella usually occur six hours to six days from the time of infection. A bout of salmonella can last anywhere from four to seven days.
Fortunately, most people with salmonella do not require treatment or hospitalization. Severe cases, however, require prompt medical attention. Since salmonella can cause diarrhea and dehydration, treatment focuses on replacing lost fluids and electrolytes. In many instances, anti-diarrheal drugs are administered.
People who are at higher risk of salmonella include:
- Older people (65 years of age and above)
- People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- People with weak immune systems (cancer patients, people with HIV/AIDS, etc.)
Does Refrigeration Kill Salmonella?
Like freezing, refrigeration does not kill salmonella. The refrigerator cannot inactivate salmonella like the freezer. However, it can considerably slow down the growth and multiplication of salmonella. Health authorities recommend keeping the refrigerator below 40°F (4.44°C) to prevent salmonella.
It’s customary to store food in the refrigerator to keep it from going bad quickly.
Allowing the refrigerator to extend the shelf lives of food products is the fact that the environment inside it has a lower temperature, which is vital for decelerating the reproduction of microorganisms, including salmonella.
While refrigeration can delay microbial proliferation, it cannot kill microbes. It’s for this reason why refrigerated food products do not stay in good condition forever. Time will come when you will have to throw them away, from a few days or several months, to safeguard your health.
Because the temperature inside a refrigerator is not as low as the temperature inside a freezer, uncooked meat should be frozen instead.
However, experts agree that most meat cuts can be stored in the refrigerator for three to five days. Ground meat and organs, on the other hand, can be refrigerated for one to two days only.
There is also one more thing in a refrigerator that’s not in a freezer that prevents the deactivation of salmonella: moisture. Like most microorganisms, salmonella needs moisture to thrive.
At What Temperature Does Salmonella Die?
Salmonella dies at cooking temperatures above 150°F (65.55°C). Thoroughly cooking food potentially contaminated with salmonella is highly recommended. If possible, food should be rinsed thoroughly before cooking. Food recalled due to salmonella risk should not be eaten even if cooked thoroughly.
The temperature inside kitchen freezers can go as low as -4°F (-20°C). But no matter how low your freezer’s internal temperature can go, one thing remains true: it cannot kill salmonella.
However, exposing salmonella to a high temperature is a completely different matter.
Most microorganisms die when exposed to heat — usually 140°F (60°C) at least. When it comes to dealing with salmonella, health authorities say that food that’s potentially contaminated with salmonella should be exposed to more than 150°F (65.55°C) in order to keep food poisoning due to the microbe at bay.
There are instances where it’s recommended to cook meat at a higher temperature. For instance, Cleveland Clinic says that ground meat should be cooked at a temperature of 160°F (71.11°C).
Meanwhile, the medical center says that all poultry should be cooked at a temperature of 165°F (73.88°C).
This doesn’t mean, however, that thoroughly cooked food will no longer pose a threat. It’s true that exposure to high temperatures during the cooking process kills salmonella. However, if cooked food comes into contact with contaminated food, it could still cause food poisoning.
It’s because of this why you should never serve cooked food on a plate or bowl that previously held raw or undercooked meat or any other food product that may be contaminated with salmonella.
Does Microwaving Kill Salmonella?
The microwave itself is incapable of killing salmonella. The heat a microwave generates, on the other hand, can. The maximum temperature food being heated in the microwave can reach is around 212°F (100°C), which is more than enough to kill salmonella effectively — salmonella dies past 150°F (65.55°C).
It’s no secret that a microwave provides a convenient way to cook or reheat food. What’s more, it does the job so much faster than a stove or a traditional oven.
Because microwave can heat food to temperatures high enough to cook them, needless to say, it can also get rid of salmonella present in contaminated food products. For as long as the temperature of food in the microwave goes greater than the recommended temperature for killing salmonella, you’re golden.
However, it’s no secret, too, that a microwave can cook food unevenly.
So, in other words, some parts of food being cooked or reheated in the microwave can get really hot, while other parts can fail to get hot enough.
This can be a problem if the food product is in fact contaminated with salmonella — salmonella in areas that didn’t get cooked thoroughly by the microwave could still harbor the microbe.
Experts suggest placing large bits of food to the center of the plate while placing smaller bits of food in the center for even cooking. They also recommend covering food to prevent water from evaporating.
Just Before You Prepare Food
It’s no secret that meat and eggs may be contaminated with salmonella. However, according to health authorities themselves, just about any other food product can harbor the bacteria, too, in particular those that come into contact with contaminated ones, mainly due to improper handling.
As a general rule of thumb, you should treat food being prepared as though it’s contaminated.
This means that, if possible, wash meat or any other item to get rid of some of its salmonella content. You should also use a separate knife and cutting board for raw or undercooked meat and fruits and vegetables in order to fend off cross-contamination. Or you may clean utensils with warm soapy water thoroughly before use.
Freezing does not kill salmonella, although it’s very good at keeping salmonella from multiplying and making the frozen food product from going bad.
However, when thawed, salmonella in contaminated food will get reactivated and, ultimately, may wreak havoc on the digestive tract of unsuspecting victims.
The best way to get rid of salmonella in food is by cooking it thoroughly.
Does cooking with or drinking alcohol kill salmonella?
Based on a 2002 study by food scientists at Oregon State University, red wine could kill salmonella. The alcohol concentration of red wine is between 12% and 15%, which means that other alcohol with stronger concentrations, such as rum and whiskey, could kill salmonella better.
How do you remove salmonella from your hands?
One of the best ways to prevent salmonella poisoning is by keeping the hands clean. Washing the hands with soap and water should be done after handling potentially contaminated food products, before handling other food products. Hand washing should be done, too, after using the bathroom.
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