PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Beware of backyard chickens.
That’s what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is warning as a salmonella outbreak spans 41 states, including three cases in Massachusetts and one in Rhode Island.
Recent studies by public health officials are revealing the recent widespread salmonella outbreak – which has sickened at least 279 people so far – can be traced back to pet poultry.
“They’re cute,” Chief of Center for Food Protection Ernest Julian said. “Unfortunately kids hug them, they kiss them, they track manure in the house and people get sick.”
While there haven’t been any reports of death in connection to the outbreak, Julian said he’s not surprised in the spike of cases given the season.
“People tend to buy them in the spring,” he said. “They’re cute and people want eggs, but poultry can shed salmonella and campylobacter bacteria and both of them are serious illnesses.”
Julian said it’s important for everyone who handles pet poultry to be aware of the symptoms of salmonella – which include diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps.
The CDC offered a list of recommendations for anyone handling pet poultry:
- Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching backyard poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.
- Don’t let backyard poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored.
- Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.
- Children younger than 5, adults older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems shouldn’t handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other poultry.
- Poultry should not be kept in daycares, preschools, hospitals or nursing homes.
- Don’t eat or drink where poultry live or roam.
- Don’t kiss backyard poultry, or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.
- Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers.
- Buy backyard poultry from hatcheries that participate in the United States Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan.
The CDC also provided a list of tips for handling eggs produced by backyard poultry:
- Always wash your hands with soap and water right after handling eggs, chickens or anything in their environment.
- Maintain a clean coop. Cleaning the coop, floor, nests and perches regularly will help to keep eggs clean.
- Collect eggs often. Eggs that spend more time in the nest can get more poop on them, or break. Throw away cracked eggs.
- Clean eggs that have dirt and debris with fine sandpaper, a brush, or cloth. Don’t wash eggs, because colder water can pull salmonella on the eggshell into the egg.
- Refrigerate eggs after collecting them.
- Cook eggs thoroughly so that yolks are not runny and whites are firm. Raw and undercooked eggs may contain salmonella bacteria that can make you sick.
- Know local regulations for selling eggs. If you sell eggs, follow local licensing requirements.