The next time you pull a baggie of dead, hairless baby mice out of your freezer, make sure you wash your hands afterward. Also, don't thaw them in the microwave. That's the advice being given by public health officials after salmonella outbreaks in mice used for snake food sickened more than 400 people, according to The New York Times.
MiceDirect, a Georgia company that raises and sells mice, has recalled millions of the little frozen critters and plans to irradiate future shipments to protect against illness.
For many snake owners, there's nothing unusual about having some mice in the freezer. Some are grateful for the convenience, especially those who are squeamish about feeding their reptiles live animals.
But storing and preparing the mice in close proximity to human food is a bad idea, says Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, a veterinarian and epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Behravesh says snakes infected with salmonella might not show any symptoms, but their owners can become ill from coming in contact with the mice and from handling their pets.
She recommends keeping frozen mice in a separate freezer and being fastidious about hand-washing.
The salmonella outbreak has taken place largely in Britain, where it has persisted even after the recall. MiceDirect recommends that customers either ship back unused products or destroy them.