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Ritz, Goldfish cracker recalls: What you need to know about salmonella

Salmonella-linked recall
Some Goldfish crackers recalled, marking latest salmonella case 01:58

Recalls of some popular varieties of Ritz and Goldfish crackers have raised concerns about salmonella, one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the U.S.  

Though no illnesses have been reported from the crackers, Pepperidge Farm recalled four flavors of Goldfish: Flavor Blasted Xtra Cheddar, Flavor Blasted Sour Cream & Onion, Goldfish Baked with Whole Grain Xtra Cheddar and Goldfish Mix Xtra Cheddar + Pretzel. And Mondelez International recalled 16 varieties of Ritz Cracker Sandwiches and Ritz Bits in the U.S. as a precaution. In both cases, whey powder from an outside supplier may have been contaminated.

Last week, some brands of Swiss Rolls and bread made by Flowers Foods were also recalled over possible salmonella from whey powder. 

In a statement Tuesday, the FDA said the cases appear to be connected — and there could be more recalls to come. "We believe these products may contain a common whey ingredient supplied by Associated Milk Producers Inc., that may have been contaminated with Salmonella. As there are likely other food products made by other manufacturers that also use this common ingredient, there may be other recalls initiated in the coming days," the FDA said in a statement.

Last month, a salmonella outbreak was linked to Kellogg's Honey Smacks cereal, which was pulled off store shelves nationwide. According to the latest update from the FDA, 100 people in 33 states became ill and 30 had to be hospitalized.

A separate salmonella alert warns of at least 212 recent cases of illness linked to backyard chicken flocks in 44 states.

Here's what you need to know about this potentially serious health issue.

How common is salmonella infection?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses each year in the United States. Of those, 23,000 cases are serious enough that the patient had to be hospitalized. 

Salmonella is blamed for about 450 deaths in the U.S. each year.

In the majority of cases, food is the source of infection. Poultry, eggs, meat and dairy products are common culprits.

Symptoms of salmonella

Infection with the salmonella bacteria often leads to diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. The illness is known as salmonellosis. Symptoms typically develop between 12 and 72 hours after infection, and the illness usually lasts about four to seven days. Most healthy individuals recover without the need for treatment.

However, some cases turn so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. The infection can spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other parts of the body. These cases can turn deadly if not promptly treated with antibiotics.

Infants, older adults, and people with a weakened immune system are at an increased risk of serious complications from salmonella infection.

How does salmonella get into food?

Salmonella bacteria is present in the intestines and feces of many humans and animals, including chickens and other poultry. The USDA explains that salmonella present on raw meat and poultry can survive and sicken people who eat it if the food is not cooked thoroughly.

Health officials recommend using a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked to the proper internal temperature:

  • Poultry - 165 °F 
  • Eggs - 160 °F 
  • Ground meats - 160 °F
  • Beef, pork, veal and lamb - 145 °F, and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
  • Fresh or smoked uncooked ham - 145 °F, and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
  • Fish and shellfish - 145 °F 
  • Leftovers and casseroles - 165 °F 

In the case of the recent cracker recalls, one ingredient, whey powder from an outside supplier, may have been the culprit. Whey powder is a byproduct of cheese which is dried out and used as a binder or in flavorings. Food safety experts told CBS News it's possible the whey powder could have been contaminated before processing, or it could have picked up salmonella during or after processing from machinery or something else in the facility.

Salmonella can also cause foodborne illness through cross-contamination, such as when juices from raw meat or poultry come in contact with ready-to-eat foods like fresh vegetables or salads.

Food may also become contaminated when someone handling food fails to wash their hands.

How to stay safe from salmonella

The CDC recommends the following steps to help keep you and your family safe from salmonella infection:

  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
  • Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
  • Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or immunocompromised persons, because these animals can carry the bacteria.
  • Don't work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
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