Even if you always wash your hands after handling raw meat and promptly refrigerate leftovers, you could still be at risk, thanks to a food-safety threat hiding in the packaged foods in your pantry.
Turns out, Salmonella bacteria—the bug responsible for 1 million foodborne illnesses each year in the US—can live for up to 6 whole months in some cookies and crackers, according to new research published in the Journal of Food Protection. That's right: Measly little bacteria cells can actually outlast 99% of all those New Year's resolutions you made.
Researchers made this frightening discovery after inserting Salmonella into crème or peanut butter–filled cookie or cracker sandwiches, then storing them at room temperature. After 6 months, while most bacteria had died, there were still enough cells left alive to conceivably sicken someone, says study author Larry R. Beuchat, PhD, a professor at the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety. He says that sugary foods like cookie crème fillings actually draw moisture from bacteria cells, helping to preserve them for long periods of time.
And even though this study examined only specific types of cookies and crackers, previous research has shown that Salmonella and other illness-causing bugs can survive for extended periods in sweet foods like honey, raisins, marshmallow candy, and fondant icing.
What to do? First, always follow good food-safety practices. Then, be vigilant and stay updated around the clock with regards to food recalls to know exactly which products are affected by contamination and where they were sold, so you can throw out affected foods ASAP.
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