Urban Chickens: Should we Worry about Salmonella?

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We love their eggs, the sometimes larger-than-life personalities, and antics of backyard chickens.  It turns out, that many people share this attitude as keeping urban chickens is a growing trend according to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)  which is an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) whose duties include, but not limited to: animal welfare, disease management, and protection of public health and safety.   But as we gather eggs and perhaps cuddle our poultry, should we ask ourselves, “Are there hidden dangers in keeping a backyard flock”?

fresh eggs from backyard chickens

fresh eggs from backyard chickens

One of the main diseases attributed to poultry is Salmonella.  Outbreaks of the disease are often traced from the grocery store where the contaminated eggs (or meat) were sold back to the commercial farm where the offending flock was raised.  But does keeping backyard chickens eliminate that worry?  Can you catch Salmonella from your urban flock?

But before tackling that topic, let’s explore what exactly is Salmonella.   It is a bacterial disease that lives in the intestinal tract of the infected animal and is common in chickens and ducks.  Salmonella can be passed onto humans.

This may leave you wondering, “How would I get infected from my chickens”?

One way is by handling an object that has come in contact with feces (perhaps you picked up a food dish that has some excrement on it?) and bringing that hand near or on your mouth before properly washing.  Remember, it is important to wash your hands after handling objects your chickens come in contact with.

Eating foods made with raw eggs.  Think homemade mayonnaise or perhaps Caesar salad dressing.  Even eating raw cookie dough could pose a risk if the batter contains eggs.    Salmonella can be passed on through the consumption of raw eggs.  (Ever see that warning at the bottom of a restaurant menu?)

Handling your chickens.  Yes, even picking up your chickens could put you at risk.  For example, a chicken may have some poo on their feathers, near the vent or perhaps on their feet.  Maybe your chicken took a dust bath in an area with chicken feces?

backyard chickens

backyard chickens

But you may be thinking, “I could never get Salmonella from my chickens.  They are healthy”.  Well, the sad truth is that a Salmonella infected chicken can appear to be quite healthy.  In fact, the hens or eggs that you purchase to start your flock, may not be infected at all, but there is a chance they can come in contact with the disease.

The Center for Disease Control has stated that more commonly,”… chickens may be consuming feed that has come into contact with rodent feces.  Affected hens can transmit the bacteria from their ovaries or oviducts before the shell even forms around the egg, thus making the egg’s tainted status undetectable.”  They also go on to say that just because a hen is infected, it does not mean that she will always lay an egg that is tainted.

Another way your  flock could become infected is by someone coming into contact with your flock, wearing shoes/boots or another article of clothing with feces from a contaminated bird.

If you are getting nervous, don’t sell your urban chickens just yet.  All is not lost.  There are measures you can take, reducing the likelihood of getting ill from Salmonella.

Safety Procedures

  • Buy your chickens and/or eggs from a reputable source
  • Wash your hands after handling chickens, eggs or objects that come into contact with your chickens
  • Designate a pair of boots just for wearing into the chicken coop and run
  • Clean the coop and run frequently
  • Cook eggs to a proper temperature (heat to at least 160F)
  • Refrigerate eggs after gathering
  • Don’t allow children younger than 5 years old, people with weak immune systems, or the elderly handle live poultry
  • Don’t allow live poultry in the house or areas where you prepare or store food for human consumption
  • Store your chicken feed in a rodent-proof container
  • Don’t allow visitors into the coop or run, they may be wearing something that is contaminated (this is especially true if they keep chickens)

So backyard chicken keepers, you can keep your chickens and stay healthy.  Wash your hands every time after handling your chickens, eggs, or objects that come into contact with them.  Practice good sanitation in the coop and run.  Refrigerate eggs after gathering and then cook them properly and follow the other safety procedures listed.  By doing this, you can enjoy your urban chickens and eggs for years to come!

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6 responses »

  1. Didn’t know about the refrigeration part. Question though–(BTW I do not keep chickens, yet) is there a preventative/medication to treat the chicken?

    • At this point, I have not come across any preventative medication for chickens regarding salmonella. However, you could contact your local veterinarian or state’s animal/poultry diagnostic lab for more information.

  2. Another point is that people THINK they wash their hands properly, but as a nurse I can tell you that they don’t. Use warm to hot water and plenty of soap, sing the “ABC” song all the way through, wash the backs of your hands, all around your thumbs, between your fingers, and use a paper towel or the back of your wrist to turn the water off. The faucet handle that you touched with your unwashed hand to start the process could be contaminated.

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