This Test Could Help You Check Your Food for Salmonella
Fact checked by Nick Blackmer
A rapid Salmonella test is being developed that works similarly to a COVID-19 antigen test.
A rapid test for Salmonella will decrease long wait times that are currently needed for lab cultures to diagnose the infection, which is common in the food industry and in people's kitchens at home.
Having a way to test for Salmonella quickly could help reduce the number of foodborne illness outbreaks and recalls.
Researchers from McMaster University have developed a rapid test that can easily detect Salmonella in contaminated poultry, eggs, dairy, and ground beef.
The inexpensive rapid test works similarly to a COVID-19 rapid at-home antigen test. A user drops a liquified sample of food onto a paper test strip that will give an accurate result in less than an hour.
Currently, the food industry relies on expensive, time-consuming lab cultures to find out if supplies are contaminated with Salmonella, as do the healthcare providers who diagnose the 1.35 million Salmonella infections that occur in the United States each year.
The test could help minimize food waste, illness outbreaks, and food recalls.
Here’s what you should know about at-home Salmonella testing, and how you can prevent foodborne illness in your kitchen.
Learn More:What Are the Risk Factors for Salmonella?
Why You May Want to Test for Salmonella
Salmonella infections are commonly linked to poultry, beef, pork, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and occasionally peanut butter and raw flour. Having a way to know whether the food you’re getting ready to eat could be contaminated could be a life-saver—maybe even literally.
Salmonella bacteria can also be spread by animals, like pet turtles.
Salmonella makes millions of people sick each year. They’ll usually start feeling sick a few days after eating something contaminated (sometimes even within hours).
Most people who get a bout of “food poisoning” have symptoms like nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and sometimes a fever. While no fun, the illness is usually something they can manage on their own at home, and they’ll be feeling back to normal within a few days to a week.
However, some people get very sick from Salmonella and need to be treated with antibiotics. They might even end up in the hospital—for example, if the GI symptoms lead to dehydration.
People who may need treatment for a Salmonella infection include:
People with severe symptoms
People with weak immune systems
People over the age of 50 with underlying medical conditions
People aged 65 and older
It’s not common, but a Salmonella infection can turn deadly. About 400 people die in the U.S. each year from Salmonella infections or the complications related to it (like sepsis).
Learn More:How Can You Tell If You Have Salmonella?
A Rapid Salmonella Test Could Make Food Prep Safer
Ideally, food safety starts long before you’re in your kitchen at home making something to eat. Local grocery stores, your favorite takeout place, the factory where a product was packaged, the farm where food was grown, and the trucks used to transport the goods all play an important role in making sure the food is safe for people to eat.
“Since there are no simple, cost-effective, and accurate tests for Salmonella, we believe we can provide a solution for the food industry and health sectors to frequently test for this important food pathogen,” Yingfu Li, PhD, a study author and professor of Biochemistry and Chemical Biology at McMaster University’s Functional Nucleic Acids Research Group, told Verywell.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates Salmonella testing for places that process, pack, or hold foods for humans to eat. The FSIS recommends testing for Salmonella with a special method called cultures, but it can take days or even weeks to provide results and it’s costly.
Restaurants are regulated by the local health department, which does inspections. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that health inspections take place at least three times a year to check for factors that contribute to outbreaks of foodborne illness, like food storage and handling practices, temperature control, and overall cleanliness.
If a Salmonella outbreak is suspected, a lab culture test can confirm the bacteria as the cause—but again, not necessarily in a timely, affordable way.
Learn More:Food Safety 101
A rapid Salmonella test would make the process faster because the food industry and restaurants could self-test food for Salmonella and get results in hours. If the tests cost less, it could also make more frequent testing possible.
According to Li, having the test would mean you don’t have to wait for days to pay up to $100 to do a test for Salmonella.
At-home Salmonella tests could help consumers, too. Li said that the testing could be done “at home similar to how we check for bacteria in our swimming pools and COVID antigen tests.”
Evangelyn Alocilja, PhD, a professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at Michigan State University, told Verywell that a rapid test for Salmonella in food “is going to be useful to society by reducing the incidence of foodborne illness, improving the availability of nutritious food, minimizing food waste, and improving profitability for the industry.”
Learn More:Is There Treatment for Salmonella?
When Will the Test Be Ready?
The vision of the research team (which also includes the non-profit organization Mitacs and Toyota Tsusho Canada, Inc.) is a rapid Salmonella test that’s available to the general public for at-home use, at senior living facilities, and at other places that process and sell food.
While the rapid test is still in the prototype phase, Li said that the next step is to work with industries to validate the test results using different food samples.
Li said that the team already has an industrial partner that’s interested in taking the test to market, but it will be a couple of years before it is available for industrial and at-home use.
Learn More:What to Do If You Get Food Poisoning
How to Keep Salmonella Out of Your Kitchen
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are four important steps you can take in your kitchen at home to prevent Salmonella illness.
Make Sure Your Space Is Clean
Wash your hands with soap and water before and after you handle food
Wash utensils, cutting boards, countertops, and dishes with hot water
Do not wash raw eggs, poultry, meat, or seafood before cooking
Keep Everything Separate
Refrigerate eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood away from other food items
Use different cutting boards for eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood
Never place cooked food on a plate that was used for uncooked meat, poultry, or eggs
Cook and Check Temperature
Use a food thermometer to check that your food reaches a safe internal temperature
Do not eat raw eggs or eggs that have runny whites/yolk
Chill Your Food
Make sure to properly cool and store leftovers
Keep your refrigerator at 40 F degrees or cooler and your freezer at 0 degrees F
Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours or longer than 1 hour if it’s a hot day (over 90 degrees F)
Having a quick way to test your food at home could make foodborne illnesses from Salmonella less common and could also help the food industry avoid costly recalls. In the meantime, you can take steps to prevent foodborne illness at home.
Read Next:How to Prevent Salmonella Food Poisoning