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General Food Safety
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Health departments in 13 U.S. states have reported cases of persons infected with unusual serotypes of Salmonella in which patients had direct or indirect contact with reptiles such as lizards, snakes, or turtles. Keep the following points in mind when handling reptiles: * A high proportion of reptiles are asymptomatic carriers of Salmonella. * Fecal carriages rates can be more than 990%. * Attempts to eliminate Salmonella in reptiles have been unsuccessful. * Reptiles are infected from birth. * Eating feces, a typical hatchling behavior, which helps to establish normal intestinal flora for hindgut fermentation, can infect them.
Who should avoid contact with reptiles? * Infants and children up to five years of age; some say up to age 8. * Anyone with HIV/AIDS or other immunodeficiency disorders. * Anyone who has had transplant surgery, and is on anti-rejection therapy. * Anyone who is on any drug which suppresses/alters immune function including: steroids, cancer chemotherapy, biological response modifiers and others. * Anyone receiving radiation treatment. * Women who are pregnant, due to risk to the fetus. * Elderly, frail or people with poor nutritional status. * People subject to chronic infections. . People receiving or have recently received antibiotic treatment.
What to do to avoid becoming infected or acting as a carrier. 1. After handling any reptile, wash hands with soap and hot water. 2. Wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds; an antibacterial soap is preferable. Washing with water only is ineffective in eliminating Salmonella. 3. Keep reptiles out of kitchens and always from any surfaces where human food is stored, prepared or served. 4. Do not use kitchen sinks to clean reptile accessories or caging materials. 5. Do not touch food for human consumption after handling any reptile or their accessories. 6. Do not touch dishes, pots, pans or other utensils used for human food after touching any reptile or reptile accessory. 7. Keep reptile enclosures, water/food bowls, and surfaces as clean as possible. 8. Do not permit unsupervised handling of reptiles by children under 12 years old. 9. Teach children to wash hands thoroughly after handling any reptile. 10. Do not handle any reptile or their materials with open cuts, lesions (sores) on the hands unless such cuts are well covered with dressings; rubber gloves are recommended. 11. When washing reptile enclosures/accessories, avoid splashes to face. If splashing and frequent handling is unavoidable, consider wearing goggles and face mask protection, as well as surgical gloves. 12. Do not use bathtubs or shower stalls for reptile-related operations unless they are thoroughly disinfected afterwards. 13. Consult your pharmacists, physician, veterinarian or other health or pet care professional for recommendations on soaps and other products useful for disinfecting hands and surfaces. 14. Do not keep reptiles in any child-care facility where toddlers and pre-schoolers are cared for. 15. Do not handle reptiles kept in classrooms unless appropriate handwashing and cleanup facilities are available and made accessible to children and staff. 16. Carry disinfectant lotions, pump sprays, or similar products should be carried whenever reptiles are going to be handled in the field, at swap meets, or other locations where handwashing facilities may be absent.
PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, NC State University in July 2004