Salmonella is a type of bacteria that makes people sick with diarrhea, fever, and abdominal (stomach) cramps. It’s spread through contaminated food and water, or by contact with animals like dogs, cats, and chickens.

  • About 1.2 million infections, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths are caused by Salmonella in the U.S. each year
  • Most people are sick for 4 to 7 days and get better without treatment
  • Anyone can get Salmonella, but young children and the elderly are most likely to get sick and have severe symptoms
  • Not washing your hands after having contact with farm animals and their environment is another way to get infected with Salmonella


Symptoms of Salmonella infection usually start 12 to 72 hours after being infected. Symptoms of Salmonella include:

  • Sudden onset of diarrhea (possibly bloody)
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you have diarrhea that lasts for more than 3 days, have a high fever, blood in your stool (poop), or you’re vomiting so much that you can’t keep liquids down, you should go in to see your healthcare provider right away. Antibiotics are only given to people with severe symptoms; most people get better on their own in 4 to 7 days.

There are many bacteria and viruses that can cause similar symptoms and illness, like E.coli, Campylobacter, and Norovirus. If you have been having symptoms for more than 48 to 72 hours you should see a doctor and submit a stool sample for testing.

We investigate cases of illness that are linked to eating in restaurants or other food establishments in Whatcom County. If you have symptoms of foodborne illness after eating out, call 360-778-6000 or email us to let us know.

How It’s Spread

Salmonella infection starts when you accidentally eat or drink invisible amounts of human or animal feces (poop). This can happen when you eat contaminated foods, drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, drink untreated water (like from a contaminated well), or have contact with an infected person or animal (like at a petting zoo or even from chickens in your own backyard).


Salmonella infection can be prevented if you follow these healthy practices:

  • Always wash hands before, during, and after preparing and eating food
  • DO NOT wash raw chicken before cooking; washing raw chicken spreads germs
  • Keep raw meats away from other foods; use separate cutting boards for raw meats and fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Clean all cutting boards, counter tops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw meat
  • Cook all meat thoroughly (to a temperature of at least 160°F)
  • Avoid raw milk products, only drink milk products that have been pasteurized (heated to kill bacteria)
  • Do not drink untreated water from contaminated wells
  • Wash your hands after contact with animals or their environments (think: fairs, petting zoos, farms, backyard chickens)

Important Note

If you work in food handling, healthcare, or child care and you have nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea:

Do not return to work until at least 24 hours after your symptoms have gone away to prevent spreading your infection to others. Illnesses with vomiting and diarrhea can spread easily from one person to another, through food contaminated by an ill person, or from shared surfaces such as bathrooms and work spaces.

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