Whether it's eggs, poultry or pre-cut fruit, there's frequently news of a salmonella outbreak. Salmonella is a bacteria that causes the foodborne illness salmonellosis. It's been known to cause illness for more than 130 years.

When an outbreak or a recall is in the news, you may wonder what symptoms to look for.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the onset of salmonella symptoms can take anywhere from 12 hours to three days following the ingestion of contaminated food or drink.

Symptoms include the following:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea
  • fever

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the illness typically lasts four to seven days and that most people recover without antibiotic treatment. The diarrhea, however, can be severe and may require hospitalization.

While most people can expect to recover, the CDC notes that the elderly, infants and those with impaired immune systems may be at risk for more severe infections. These patients are in particular danger if the salmonella spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and then on to other parts of the body. This type of infection can result in death if it is not treated promptly.

How people get sick

cutting board with food Contaminated utensils can spread salmonella. (Photo: Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock)

The CDC estimates that each year in the U.S., about 1.2 million people get sick from salmonellosis, with 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths. People commonly get infected with salmonella by eating contaminated food, such as:

  • Raw or undercooked meat and poultry products
  • Raw or undercooked eggs and egg products
  • Raw or unpasteurized milk and other dairy products
  • Raw fruits and vegetables.

People can also become infected by handling contaminated food, such as contaminated pet food, or touching contaminated surfaces and utensils and then spreading the bacteria from their hands to their mouths.

Stay safe from salmonella

To help prevent a salmonella infection, WebMD suggests:

  • Don't eat raw or undercooked eggs, beef, pork or poultry.
  • Refrigerate food properly — before cooking and after serving.
  • Wash your hands well before and after handling food.
  • Keep kitchen surfaces clean.
  • Don't mix raw and cooked food or use the same pans or utensils to prepare them.
  • Cook foods properly to the correct minimum temperature.
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables well, and peel if possible.
  • Wash your hands after touching animals, their bedding and their toys.

Editor's note: This story was originally written in August 2010 and has been updated with new information.

Mary Jo DiLonardo covers a wide range of topics focused on nature, health, science and anything that helps make the world a better place.

What are the symptoms of salmonella?
The onset of salmonella poisoning typically includes severe diarrhea and nausea.