WSU professor researches salmonella bacterium

PULLMAN, WA - While food recalls regularly make headlines, it's important to remember that you're always at risk of catching salmonella from foods like raw chicken or eggs.

Palouse Reporter Rachel Dubrovin tells us what salmonella does to our bodies and what kind of research is being done locally to stop it.

The chicken, or the egg. No matter which came first, both are known for carrying salmonella.

"So salmonella is a bacterium," said WSU Assistant Professor Leigh Knodler. "It lives everywhere essentially."

Knodler spends much of her time researching the disease.

"I actually grow cells in the lab that mimic the cells that line our gut," said Knodler.

Those intestinal cells normally provide a barrier from bacteria, but salmonella penetrates them.

"Somehow salmonella has gained the upper hand and they actually manage to live inside these cells that are supposed to form this barrier," said Knodler. "And so that's not a good thing, that's why we get sick."

Knodler wants to find out how the bacteria goes in and out of the cells undetected.

"The idea of my research is that if you can stop that escape process, the exit, then we can maybe stop transmission from one person to another, or from an animal to a person," said Knodler.

For healthy adults, salmonella can cause vomiting or diarrhea.

"Generally you'll live in the bathroom for about three days," said Knodler.

But people with weak immune systems could be hospitalized, or even die from it.

Chances are you've eaten a few spoonfuls of cookie dough, and you've gotten away without showing any signs of salmonella. But the only way to make sure that you're completely safe from salmonella is to wait until that dough is fully cooked before you eat it.

"Cooking kills salmonella," said Knodler. "That's the easiest way to kill salmonella, is by heat treating it."

Salmonella is most commonly found in chicken and eggs, but it has also been found in produce and peanut butter. Cutting boards have been known for spreading it, and so have humans.

"Salmonella is easily transmitted from one person to another," said Knodler. "So if you get salmonella, it's really important to make sure that you wash your hands and everything so you don't spread salmonella between the whole family."

Knodler said that about a million people a year fall victim to salmonella. So next time you're baking, think twice before taking a spoon to the dough.

It's recommended that you use a glass cutting board to cut chicken because it's easy to clean and bacteria like salmonella can't infest glass like it can wooden boards.