UPDATE: January 28, 2016 at 10:35 a.m.
Remember that salmonella outbreak from September that was linked to cucumbers? Apparently it's still sickening hundreds of people four months later.
In its first update since November, the CDC reports that the outbreak has now spread to 39 states including Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. In total, 888 cases have been confirmed, with 191 people hospitalized. Six people have died.
What's worse, these numbers could soon rise because illnesses reported after December 21 may not have been included in this latest report. And so the recall still remains in full effect. Check your cukes!
ORIGINAL POST: September 8, 2015 at 1:28 p.m.
It's hard not to love cucumbers: The veggie that's more than 90 percent water is refreshing, delicious and great for the waistline. But as healthy as they are, the recent salmonella outbreak means it's time to be a whole lot more careful when eating them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating a very serious strain of salmonella called salmonella Poona, which has affected 558 people in 27 states since July 2015. Of those infected, more than half are children, 112 have been hospitalized and three deaths have been reported — the first in California, the second in Texas and the third in Arizona.
Which Cucumbers Are Affected?
The investigation has revealed that the likely source of the salmonella outbreak is cucumbers imported from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. As of September 4, 2015, all cucumbers sold under the "Limited Edition" brand have been recalled.
The investigation is still ongoing, but because the cucumbers were distributed across the country, there's no better time than now to learn a thing or two about the potentially deadly strain and what it means for one of our favorite vegetables.
The Cause and Symptoms of Salmonella Infection
You mostly hear about salmonella when it comes to poultry, ground beef and eggs — not vegetables. But any type of food can harbor the salmonella bacteria, which usually happens when food comes into contact with small amounts of animal feces.
When humans eat salmonella-contaminated food, they're likely to become infected. The most likely to get a salmonella infection are children under age 5, adults over age 65, people with weakened immune systems and infants who are not breast fed. Certain medications, such as medications to reduce stomach acid, can also increase your risk for infection, according to the CDC.
The most common illness caused by salmonella is gastroenteritis, which comes with really unpleasant symptoms, including sudden, potentially bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, vomiting and headache; however, most people recover from this type of salmonella infection.
Salmonella infection is life-threatening when it becomes invasive and affects the bloodstream, bones, joints, brain or nervous system. According to CDC data, about 8 percent of people with laboratory-confirmed cases of salmonella develop invasive infections, such as bacteremia (infection of the blood), meningitis (infection of the brain and spinal cord linings), osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) and septic arthritis (infection of the joint).
What You Can Do With the Cucumbers You Already Have
After this outbreak, it's clear people have more to worry about than washing their hands immediately after coming in contact with raw meat, but that doesn't mean you need to throw out all the cucumbers you've already bought.
Keep in mind that salmonella-contaminated food usually looks and smells normal, but if the cucumbers in your home weren't distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, they shouldn't be affected by this outbreak. To ensure no salmonella is present from any other strain, the FDA recommends all produce should be thoroughly washed before eating it, giving firm produce like cucumbers extra attention.
How to Safely Prepare Your Produce
According to the FDA, there are precautions to take each time you prepare produce before eating it. Follow these four steps to avoid contamination:
- Clean your hands by washing them for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation.
- Wash your produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking — homegrown veggies included.
- Scrub firm produce like cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
- Dry produce with a clean towel to further reduce bacteria from spreading.
If you buy produce labeled "pre-washed" like lettuce, no additional steps are needed to decontaminate that particular item, says the FDA.
Tasty Substitutions for Cucumbers
If you don't want to take any chances with cucumbers until the outbreak is completely over, there are some other veggies that will leave you just as satisfied. Here's what to munch on if you're looking for:
- The crunch: cauliflower, carrots, celery, korabi or broccoli
- The substance: summer squash, eggplant or jicama
- Something filling: zucchini, radish or tomatoes
- Something refreshing: peppers, spinach or red cabbage