Foods & Pregnancy

What is Salmonella

Salmonella is a bacterium that has the intestinal tract of man and animals as its habitat, and its diffusion into the environment takes place through faeces. It can contaminate water or food by reaching high loads. Contaminated food, if swallowed, can cause salmonellosis.

The symptoms of the infection manifest as gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, fever and abdominal pain. Usually it has a benign course without taking medication. However, in the most sensitive population groups such as infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, the symptoms can be so debilitating that hospitalisation is required.

If contracted during pregnancy, the infection may cause fever, reduced oxygen supply to the placenta and metabolic changes that may impair the development of the foetus. In more severe cases, it can lead to miscarriage or premature delivery.

salmonella bacterium salmonella on the dish
foods pregnancy risk salmonella salmonellosis symptoms pain

How the infection may occur

Salmonella mainly infects humans through food, following ingestion of contaminated food in which the bacterium has multiplied until it reaches an infectious load that triggers the disease.

The food can be contaminated in several ways:

  • by originating directly from infected animals;
  • by being contaminated by infected subjects (healthy carriers who do not have symptoms of the disease);
  • due to cross-contamination by contact between raw foods in which the bacteria is present or through dirty kitchen utensils in contact with ready-to-eat foods.

Salmonellosis is transmitted by direct contact with infected people in less frequent cases.

Usually the infection occurs about 12-72 hours after ingestion of the contaminated food, and has a course ranging from 4 to 7 days.


Salmonellosis is a disease that is widespread all over the world. Contrary to what one might think, it is not just found in countries where sanitary conditions are poor, but it is one of the main food diseases in industrialised countries.

In Europe, the application of control strategies in farms, envisaged by Community legislation, has led to a significant decline in the disease. However, as recently as 2013 there were 87,360 confirmed cases.

In Italy, between 2009 and 2013 there was a constant decrease in the number of hospitalised cases, which on average was reported to be 6 days. However, some cases have led to approximately 250 days of hospitalisation for consequences due to the infection.

The number of deaths per year ranged from 40 to 70 people.

cases in Europe in 2013
days of hospitalization on average
deaths per year in Italy
between 2009 and 2013
Meat and salami

What foods to be careful with

The foods that are most often involved in cases of salmonellosis are:

  • raw or undercooked eggs and derived products (mayonnaise, tiramisu);
  • raw milk and products or cheeses derived therefrom;
  • raw or undercooked meat, especially chicken and turkey, fresh processed meats such as sausages and cured meats such as salami of pork origin;
  • seafood.

How to reduce the risk of salmonellosis

Unfortunately, it is not possible to recognise food contaminated by pathogenic micro-organisms:
contaminated food shows no changes in colour, smell, appearance or taste.

Click on the button below to read the rules on foods to avoid and behaviours to be adopted
to reduce the risk of contracting diseases of microbiological origin transmitted by food.