An Outbreak of Salmonella Poona Infections: Think Twice Before Eating That Cucumber

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating a very serious strain of salmonella called Salmonella Poona, which has affected 767 people as reported until October 14, 2015 by consuming contaminated cucumbers. Among 36 states, 205 cases reported from California, which has the highest number of infected people in this salmonella outbreak. Four deaths have been reported from California, Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma. More than gettyimages-175696368half of the infected people are children younger than 18 years old. FDA investigations have identified that the contaminated cucumbers were imported from state of Baja California in Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. The company has issued a recall of all cucumbers sold under its Limited Edition label, which are those Slicer cucumbers imported from Mexico, during the period from August 1, 2015 to September 3, 2015. However, the shelf life of this type of cucumber is 14 days and some customers may store the cucumbers and do not notice the recall of these contaminated cucumbers. Moreover, it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks for the case actually reported as part of the outbreak since the person is exposed to salmonella, which means there will be more illnesses reported later on. CRbPX0_VAAA47iN

Children, elderlies, and people with suppressed immune systems are more likely to get salmonella
infections and the infection can be fatal. Salmonellosis causes abdominal cramping, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. According to CDC, 8% of reported infections had long-term impact, such as chronic gastroenteritis, osteomyelitis, and septic arthritis.

People mostly hear about salmonella when it comes to poultry, egg and beef, not vegetables, but any type of food might be contaminated by salmonella bacteria. Research shows that 13% of the source attribution of salmonellosis is vine vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Cucumber, as a delicious and refreshing vegetable, is usually eaten raw, which increases the risk of getting infected by salmonella. Salmonella grows optimally at 37 °C and pH of 6.5 to 7.5. However, most salmonella serotypes can grow in the range of 7 to 48 °C and are able to survive under freezing for a relatively long period of time. They can also survive under very acidic and dry condition. An efficient way to eliminate salmonella in the food is heating to an internal temperature of 72 °C for at least ten minutes.

Nevertheless, going back to the salmonella outbreak linked to cucumbers in US since September 2015, fresh cucumbers are usually not cooked before consumption, which means it would not go through the heating process, so it is very difficult to eliminate the pathogens during the preparation. The question is: how to safely prepare your produce? According to FDA, there are some precautions to take each time before eating the produce:

  1. Clean your hands by washing them for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation.

  2. Wash your produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking — home-grown veggies included.

  3. Scrub firm produce like cucumbers with a clean produce brush.

  4. Dry produce with a clean towel to further reduce bacteria from spreading.

Furthermore, avoiding cross-contamination is also very critical. Raw meat, poultry, and produce need to be separated in the grocery shopping cart and the refrigerator. For the preparation, different cutting boards can be used for different types of food, especially for separating cooked and raw food.

Eating raw food always links to high risk of getting infected by the foodborne pathogens. Personally, I always eat cucumbers raw, since produce is not a very big concern for salmonella infection. As I heard this outbreak, I started to re-consider if I should cook them before eating. I feel like cooking is the safest way to prevent from getting infected.

Suggestions by FDA – “how to safely handle raw produce and fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices”


What do you think? How would you prevent yourself from being harmed by eating raw produce?