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Fried chicken, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo…Sounds good, right? Seven years ago, seven-year-old Monica Samaan thought so, too. But after sharing her Kentucky Fried Chicken Twister wrap with her family in Sydney, Australia, the four came down with food poisoning. Monica suffered the most – salmonella encephalopathy, a brain injury that can cause seizures, and, in Monica’s case, blood infection, septic shock, and paralysis.

You may wonder how such a thing can happen. And considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 1 in 6 people will get sick with food poisoning; 128,000 thousand people will be hospitalized for food poisoning; and 3,000 people will die from food poisoning this year, you may wonder how to prevent it from happening to you.

First, you need to know what salmonella is. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Salmonella bacteria are the most frequently reported cause of foodborne illness.” The agency goes on to say that:

  • Salmonella is usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces;
  • any raw food of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, milk and dairy products, eggs, seafood, and some fruits and vegetables may carry Salmonella bacteria;
  • it does not usually affect the taste, smell, or appearance of the food; and
  • Salmonella can also cause foodborne illness (salmonellosis) through cross-contamination, e.g., when juices from raw meat or poultry come in contact with ready-to-eat foods, such as salads.

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include diarrhea, stomach cramps, headache, nausea, vomiting, chills, and fever anywhere from 8 to 72 hours after eating the contaminated food. You may be sick 4 to 7 days.Salmonella poisoning can be fatal for babies, young children like Monica, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, like those who have HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease.

So how do you avoid getting salmonella poisoning? If eating out, it’s clear you’re putting your life in others’ hands. Though KFC’s website says it takes “great pride and care to provide you with the best food and dining experience in the quick service restaurant business,” the lawyer representing Monica Samaan’s family said KFC has been known to use chicken that’s been dropped on the floor.

At home, the USDA recommends:

  • washing your hands before and after handling food;
  • using paper towels rather than kitchen towels to clean counters;
  • cutting produce and meat on separate surfaces;
  • rinsing in hot water cutting boards, plates, and anything that comes in contact with meat;
  • cooking food thoroughly; and
  • refrigerating leftovers within two hours.

As for Monica’s family, the Supreme Court of the state of New South Wales ordered Yum! Brands, which also owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Wing Street, to pay over $8 million plus legal fees. The Louisville, Kentucky-based company plans to appeal the ruling.

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