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BAMBERG: Reptiles, amphibians and salmonella — oh, my! |

BAMBERG: Reptiles, amphibians and salmonella — oh, my!

One of the many surveys that I read, I forget which one it was, found that reptiles and amphibians have become increasingly popular as pets, especially among millennials. They’re the new rock stars of the pet supply industry.

If a reptile, such as a turtle, lizard or snake, or an amphibian, such as a frog or salamander is in your future, don’t overlook the importance of the sanitation aspect of having them in your house. I bring this up because it’s so easy to overlook.

Healthcare professionals and government agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, National Institutions of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us all the time not to thaw meat on the kitchen counter because it can make us sick. Many still do it, few get sick.

Or so it seems, anyway. So, we continue to ignore the warnings, apparently with impunity. I think the same can hold true with the cautions about health risks associated with owning herps, the popular collective name for reptiles and amphibians. Many don’t comply, few get sick.

Or so it seems, anyway. If we think back, many of us can recall episodes of mild gastrointestinal distress that we attributed to something we must have eaten. It could be. It could also be that we were careless about “kitchen sanitation” or handling herps.

Preparing raw meat for the oven or grill and being careless with contaminated utensils, counter tops and other surfaces, or being careless while handling herps or cleaning their habitats and accessories can result in a case of salmonella poisoning.

Most healthy adults will experience mild GI distress, but the very young, the elderly and people whose immune systems are compromised can become very ill. According to, one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year. Most will recover without any lasting effects, but for some the effects can be devastating and even deadly.

I bring this all up because the March 14 issue of Food Safety News contained an article by Kelsey M. Mackin that caught my eye. Between March 1 and Dec. 1, 2017, the CDC investigated 76 cases of salmonella contamination traced to pet turtles.

The illnesses occurred in 19 states, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and resulted in 30 hospitalizations. Children under 5 years of age accounted for 32 percent of the cases. The CDC expects the outbreaks will continue because many consumers are unaware of the risks.

There are simple steps you can take to protect your family’s health:

  • Always wash hands after handling herps, their habitats, food or equipment.
  • Children younger than 5, people with weak immune systems or those over 65 should not handle or touch herps or their environment.
  • Beware of cross-contamination. Reptile food (like frozen or live rodents), equipment and materials, including the tank water, can be contaminated with salmonella and other germs.
  • Keep herps and their equipment away from anywhere food is prepared, served or eaten.
  • Clean herp habitats outside your home. Otherwise, clean items in a dedicated bin and use warm, soapy water on the bin and any surfaces it touches.
  • Don’t snuggle with or kiss a herp. It might turn into a handsome prince. Try explaining that to your partner.
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