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DNA India
19 September 2010
By Juthika Sinha
Bangalore, India

Not only the big cats, but humans are also at risk of salmonella infection. Humans too are prone to diseases caused by the salmonella bacteria, which have proved deadly for the tigers at the Bannerghatta National Park.

A salmonella infection is a food–borne illness caused by the salmonella bacteria that is carried by some animals. This can be transmitted from kitchen surfaces and can be in water, soil, animal feces, raw meat and eggs.

A rarer form of salmonella, typhoidal salmonella (typhoid fever), is carried only by humans and is usually transmitted through direct contact with the foecal matter of an infected person. Children, especially infants, are most vulnerable to such an infection.

"There are two variants of the salmonella infection that are mostly seen in humans typhie and para–typhie A & B. The symptoms that are seen are high grade temperature; bradycardia, where the pulse rate drops and there is a thick coating on the tongue," says Dr Sujatha SK at Yana Sanjeevani Medical Centre.

A salmonella infection generally causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and headache, malaise, lethargy, skin rashes, constipation and delirium. It occurs primarily in developing countries without appropriate systems for handling human waste.

"In cases of typhoid fever caused by salmonella bacteria, the early symptoms are the same. But in the second week, the liver and spleen can become enlarged, and distinctive ‘rose spotted’ skin rashes may appear. From there, the infection can cause other health problems like meningitis and pneumonia," adds Dr Sujatha.

People at risk of more serious complications from a salmonella infection include those who have compromised immune systems (such as people with HIV), take cancer–fighting drugs, have sickle cell disease or an absent or non–functioning spleen, or those who take chronic stomach acid suppression medication.

"Rodents and flies are patent carriers of this infection. One should make sure that food items are not left open to facilitate unhygienic transmission of diseases. Water should be properly boiled before consumption as this genre of bacteria is also water borne" adds Dr Sujatha.

Salmonella is present worldwide and can contaminate almost any food type. But recent outbreaks of the disease involve raw eggs, raw meat (ground beef and other poorly cooked meat), egg products, fresh vegetables, cereal, pistachio nuts and contaminated water.

"The mechanism of transmission is the same. We need to evolve hygienic procedures for prevention and precautions against diseases like these. Cross–contamination of foods should be avoided. Uncooked meat should be kept away from produce, cooked foods and ready–to–eat foods. Hands, cutting boards, counters, knives and other utensils should be washed thoroughly after handling uncooked food," she says.

According to chef Manu Chandra, at Olive Beach, it is the odour, texture and color of meat which denotes its freshness.

"It is very important to have a dependable supplier for raw meet, either beef or chicken. One should make sure that the supplier has an inevitable cold chain process for the preservation of the meat. It is important to store raw meat at the right temperature to keep the texture and the freshness intact," he says.

Food in Indian cuisines is mostly well cooked as the curries in India involve a great deal of stirring and frying but western cuisine is a challenge.

"Chicken or beef needs to be cooked well to sustain its taste. As for Indian curries, meat is cooked at relevantly high temperatures which make it nicely cooked and ready to eat. In western cuisines like a ‘Chicken Grill’ or a ‘Chicken Breast’ each layer of meat is cooked at a different temperature.

It’s a challenge for us to make sure the meat is not undercooked," says Chandra. "We make sure that the meat is tender and try to squeeze out the juice from the meat. If the juice is clear it means the chicken or beef is well cooked," he adds.

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