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With recent recalls involving peanut products and the long period of tomatoes being pulled from the market over fears of Salmonella, many people are confused over exactly what Salmonella is, and why they should worry about it.

Over the summer in 2008, tomatoes were pulled from restaurants and stores for weeks even though toward the end of the investigation, it was discovered that peppers, not tomatoes were the cause of the original outbreak.

The confusion came from the fact that salsa or pico de gallo was the source of the problem, a product that is primarily tomatoes.

The peanut butter recall is unusual in that in the manufacturing process, the peanuts are roasted, and this is all that is usually needed to kill the Salmonella bacteria. It is believed that in this outbreak, the peanut butter became contaminated after the roasting process.

Many products that contain peanut butter manufactured at a single plant have been recalled. Salmonella was found at the plant during the investigation.

So what is Salmonella and what does it do? Salmonella is a group of bacteria that is passed between humans and animals, typically from feces. The infection causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. In rare cases, the infection can enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body, causing death.

Severe cases need to be treated with antibiotics, but normally, the infection passes on its own in a week or less.

Since so many things can cause the same symptoms, the only way to diagnose Salmonella is through laboratory tests of the stool of someone suspected of having the infection. The main treatment of Salmonella is simply drinking plenty of fluids to combat the dehydration caused by diarrhea.

If it is determined that the infection has spread beyond the intestines, antibiotics may be prescribed, but many strains of Salmonella have become resistant to antibiotics.

The best way to avoid Salmonella is to avoid eating any type of raw foods, and frequent hand washing after contact with any raw food, or feces. Unfortunately, as the recent outbreak has proven, eating only cooked foods is not a guarantee against becoming infected with Salmonella. Also, there is no vaccine to prevent Salmonella infection from occurring.

Although there are many cases of Salmonella reported each year, it is unknown how common the infection truly is as the symptoms are so common to other health risks, and most milder cases simply are never reported.

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