Salmonella and Climate Change

The relationship between salmonella and climate change is seldom known by the public.

On the other hand, most of us are aware of the larger implications behind climate change, severe and unpredictable weather, warmer temperatures, and other dramatic changes to our planet.

However, recent studies are now adding increased salmonella outbreaks to the list (along with malaria and dengue fever).

A good example of this would be the salmonella outbreak that occurred in Finland with lettuce shipped from Spain in which 56 cases of salmonella were reported.

Electron micrograph illustrating Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells

The Causes

Salmonella and climate change isn’t something we really want to think about, but the growing number of changes to our planet gives us no other way to explain the growing number of reported salmonella cases worldwide.

In fact, numerous reports released over the last few years have linked the spike in salmonella food poisoning cases to the various other consequences of climate change.

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that infects over 140,000 Americans each year

Reports From the American Association for the Advancement of Science

One of these reports, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science paints a disturbing image.

According to studies, climate change will lead to more contaminated food, a further decrease in food supplies, and will cause food prices to rise even higher.

These are grim things to think about in a world that is already struggling to feed itself. One only needs to look at the turbulence in Asia and Africa.

A good deal of that unrest is caused by rising food prices, which is in turn caused by the havoc climate change is wrecking on our ability to create food in our current ecosystem.

Climate change will lead to not only a decrease in food supplies, but also to more contaminated food from salmonella

Cases of Food Poisoning

Currently, 38.4 million cases of food poisoning are reported in the United States ever year.

This is mostly from a pathogen known as the norovirus.

Roughly 72, 000 of the 38.4 million are hospitalized, and around 1600 die. The leading cause of food-related fatalities is salmonella.

There are many different types of bacterial infections

What's Causing the Increase?

The occurrence of food-borne salmonella increases 12 percent for every degree in which the ambient temperature rises above 6 degrees Celsius or 43 degrees Fahrenheit in a given area.

Salmonella cases are also increasing because the rising number of long-term droughts worldwide is forcing farmers and companies to use untreated water for irrigating their products.

Droughts make plants more likely to be attacked by disease.

Additionally, heavy rain and massive flooding foster the growth of fungal pathogens on the leaves.

Also, unpredictable changes to wind currents allow for certain organisms known to cause diseases.

Moreover, rising water temperatures can lead to increased mercury contamination in fish.

Droughts will lead to a rise in salmonella cases as they will force farmers and companies to use untreated water for irrigating their products

Prevention

There are many ways to help prevent salmonella food poisoning:

  • Clean counters both before and after preparing high-risk foods
  • Remember to wash your hands thoroughly (especially when you are handling eggs or poultry)
  • Handle food properly and cook foods to the recommended internal temperatures, and refrigerate leftovers quickly
  • Use different utensils for raw and cooked items
  • Keep foods refrigerated before cooking them
  • If you own a bird or a reptile, either wear gloves or wash hands thoroughly after handling
Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent salmonella outbreaks

PDF Version

Food for Thought

More and more examples of salmonella and climate change may only be the beginning. We will only be able to learn more as time goes on.

In any event, scientists have strong empirical evidence that there is a strong relationship between salmonella and climate change, and therefore, we must do what we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

If we don't do enough to stop climate change, millions more will be affected salmonella every year.

From National Geographic


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