No longer confined to barnyards, chickens can be found in urban and suburban settings thanks to the soaring popularity of backyard flocks. The rise in popularity of backyard chickens has come with a downside, however. It seems like nearly every spring there is a Salmonella outbreak as enthusiastic novice poultry keepers get started with backyard birds.
Spring 2019 Salmonella Outbreak
Backyard chickens may be a trendy way to have constant access to fresh eggs, but if you are thinking of jumping on the feathered bandwagon you should be aware that backyard poultry can make you sick. Spring 2019’s Salmonella outbreak associated with contact with live chickens had the following impact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Backyard chickens made 52 people sick
- A Salmonella outbreak affected people in 21 states
- Salmonella sent at least five people to the hospital
- Salmonella affected 14 children under the age of five
The vast majority of people interviewed by the CDC had recently been in contact with baby chicks or ducklings prior to becoming ill. Springtime is hatching season for new members of backyard flocks, and their downy fuzz can seem irresistible, but be careful when touching backyard birds.
How Chickens Can Cause a Salmonella Outbreak
All poultry, but especially juvenile fowl, carry the risk of spreading Salmonella to people. The birds making people sick this spring came from agricultural stores, online hatcheries, and informal breeders. There is no connection among them except the inherent risk of Salmonella contamination anytime people are in close quarters with poultry.
Even healthy birds can spread Salmonella through their fecal droppings. A healthy flock of chickens scratch and meander in their living quarters constantly covering everything around them in a fine dust that very possibly may contain Salmonella. Cages, coops, nest boxes, fences, feeders, waterers, soil, and vegetation near the flock are all possible sources of contagion. All it takes for someone to get sick is to touch a surface teeming with bacteria and then touch the eyes, mouth, or nose.
Since Salmonella spreads so easily, backyard chickens pose a particular danger to young children. This is partially because children have undeveloped immune systems, but also because they are more likely put contaminated items or their fingers in their mouths. A small hand that goes from petting a chicken straight into the mouth is a recipe for Salmonella infection.
Poultry lovers can also get sick without ever touching a bird. Salmonella is virile bacteria that can survive on surfaces like fences and shoes. It is critically important for chicken keepers to wash their hands in hot water and soap as soon as possible after being around their birds.
Health and Safety Tips for Backyard Chickens
Many might say the delight of watching chickens cluck and scratch and provide your home with beautiful eggs is more than enough compensation for the threat of Salmonella. If you can’t live without your backyard birds, the CDC suggests these safety measures:
- It bears repeating: always wash your hands immediately after touching chicks or chickens, or touching anything in their environment.
- Supervise hand-washing after children touch chickens, chicks, or anything in their environment.
- Substitute hand sanitizer as soon as possible if there is no water and soap available.
- Don’t let chickens in your home, especially in areas where you eat or prepare food.
- Designate a pair of shoes for walking in the chickens’ area, and never wear those shoes in the house.
- If you wear those shoes to do other chores or tasks outside, make sure to wash your hands after touching your shoes even if you didn’t go near the chickens.
- Discourage children under the age of five from touching chicks or other poultry.
- Don’t eat or drink near your chickens.
- Do not kiss chickens or cuddle them.
- Clean chicken husbandry equipment outdoors only.
Safely Handling Eggs from Backyard Chickens
Backyard chicken keepers know the joy of collecting fresh eggs, but should also be scrupulous about hand-washing after handling eggs. Consider the following safety tips:
- Manage your chickens’ living areas properly to keep them clean. There are many options for minimizing chicken manure in the coop and yard, but the easiest by far is a deep litter system. The active microbes of the composting litter will sanitize pathogens. A healthy, clean coop will yield healthy, clean eggs.
- Collect eggs several times a day. Eggs that sit in the nest all day can become soiled or break.
- Throw away all cracked eggs.
- If you collect eggs with any dirt or debris, lightly sand it away. Discard eggs contaminated with feces.
- Never wash eggs. Water that is too cool can suck Salmonella inside the egg. It is not worth the risk.
- Eat fresh eggs within a week, or refrigerate eggs right after collecting them.
- Cook eggs until the yolks are solid and the whites are firm. Undercooked eggs can spread Salmonella infection.
Chicks as Easter Gifts
One reason suggested for the seemingly annual Salmonella outbreak each spring is that parents buy chicks as Easter gifts for children. Unless you are an experienced poultry keeper, the CDC warns against giving chicks to children. Small children, especially those under the age of five, are at the greatest risk of a severe Salmonella infection and should not handle live poultry at all.
Avoiding Salmonella Infection in General
Though this Salmonella outbreak stemmed from handling backyard chickens, Salmonella makes headlines throughout the year when it gets into the food supply. Salmonella is bacteria that thrive in the intestines of people and most animals. It is an easily communicable germ.
Raw foods can easily transmit Salmonella to people. Both animal-derived foods and produce can spread foodborne illness, including:
- Milk and dairy
- Raw fruits and vegetables
Luckily, proper handling and thorough cooking can kill Salmonella. When eating raw fruits and vegetables, wash them thoroughly first. Don’t eat any potentially contaminated food, especially anything involved in a recall. Pay close attention to food recalls for the safety of your family.
Symptoms of Salmonella Infection and Treatments
Salmonella infection is called Salmonellosis and can cause:
- Stomach cramps
The symptoms appear within 12 to 72 hours from the time of exposure. Healthy adults can expect to recover in about a week with bed rest and plenty of fluids. People who are more severely ill may need IV fluids or antibiotics. Potentially fatal cases most often involve children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems.
Who is Liable for a Salmonella Outbreak?
Liability for illness from backyard chickens can be a complicated matter. If they are your own chickens, handle your birds at your own risk. If the chickens that made you sick belong to someone else, then the owners may be held liable for the harm you have suffered.
To get answers to your questions about a Salmonella outbreak or any other foodborne illness, contact Bad Food Recall to find out if you have an actionable claim. Call 1-877-534-5750 or simply fill out our online form.