Food Safety in the Time of COVID-19: Keeping Backyard Poultry

Recognizing that more people may be interested in keeping backyard poultry, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has updated resources to keep both poultry and humans healthy! Since 2000, backyard poultry flocks have been responsible for more than 70 Salmonella outbreaks in the United States, sickening more than 4,794 people, with 894 hospitalizations and seven deaths; a third of the illnesses were children younger than 5. In 2017 alone, backyard poultry caused 1,120 Salmonella illnesses with cases in 48 states, sending 249 people to hospitals and causing one death. Live poultry can carry Salmonella bacteria while still appearing health and clean, possibly putting humans at risk for the illness know as salmonellosis.

What is salmonellosis? Salmonellosis is an infection with the bacteria Salmonella. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps – an average of 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

How do people catch Salmonella? Salmonella can live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Live poultry might have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks), even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can get on cages, coops, feed and water dishes, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Germs also can get on the hands, shoes, and clothes of people who handle or care for the birds.

The CDC offers the following advice:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching poultry or anything in their environment. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not immediately available.
  • Do not let backyard poultry inside the house. Be especially careful to keep them out of areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens and outdoor patios.
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of your birds and keep those outsides of your home.
  • Children younger than 5, adults over 65, and people who have health problems or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness shouldn’t handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other poultry.
  • Don’t kiss backyard poultry, or snuggle them.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry, such as cages, or feed or water containers.

There are several resources to help you stay safe and healthy:

Stay well and food-safe, Barb