With the Department of Agriculture investigating salmonella infections in eight poultry flocks, we look at why salmonella is a public health concern and what can be done in your home to avoid serious illness.

Salmonella is one of the most common causes of bacterial foodborne illness in Ireland.

Right now, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said it is important to state there is no human illness linked with these outbreaks, the focus is on containing the spread at the affected farms and no product recall has been initiated.

The FSAI has been notified by the Department of Agriculture that affected flocks will be culled and will not enter the food chain.

Likewise, the Irish Farmers' Association Poultry Chairman Nigel Sweetnam said "the affected flocks are restricted and there is no threat to human health".

What is salmonella?

Salmonella refers to types of bacteria that live in the intestinal tract of some warm-blooded animals, including humans, and are capable of causing disease.

Salmonella species are shed in faeces and poor hygiene practices can result in bacteria spreading to human hands.

Animals become infected through direct contact with other infected animals, food or water.

Animal feet, hair and skin can also become contaminated as they pass through affected ground.

It can be spread in slaughter and food-processing environments.

It can also spread to waterways through improperly treated sewage.

What are the symptoms of salmonella infection?

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People infected with salmonella typically develop symptoms between 12 and 36 hours after infection, but this can range to between six and 72 hours.

The most common symptom is diarrhoea, which can sometimes be bloody.

Other symptoms may include fever, headache and abdominal cramps.

The illness usually lasts four to seven days.

Diarrhoea can occasionally be severe enough to require hospital admission.

The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

How do you avoid salmonella?

Although salmonella can be picked up through contact with infected animals, it is most often spread to humans through consumption of contaminated food.

Safefood, the public body for promoting awareness of food safety, said salmonella has been detected on a whole range of food including beef, poultry, eggs, raw milk, fruit and vegetables.

A meat thermometer can be used to check the internal temperature of cooked food

Dr Linda Gordon, Chief Specialist in Food Science for safefood, said the risk of having salmonella on food in your home is very low due to "very good control systems" in Ireland.

"But, the first thing to know is that proper cooking will kill salmonella," she said.

Salmonella species are not particularly heat resistant and most types can be killed by normal cooking conditions.

Thorough cooking of chicken safely destroys any food poisoning bacteria that are on it.

Dr Gordon said people should pierce the thickest part of the meat with a meat thermometer to ensure it has reached 75C.

Those who do not have a meat thermometer can do three checks on the thickest part of the meat.

It is important to wash your hands after handling raw chicken

Chicken is considered thoroughly cooked when it is piping hot, with no pink meat showing and the juices are running clear.

People are advised to wash their hands before and after handling raw chicken and wash any utensils or work surfaces that come into contact with it to prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen.

"Washing utensils thoroughly with hot soapy water or in the dishwasher will remove any salmonella from them. That's the basics," Dr Gordon said.

Food hygiene advice for storing and handling raw chicken, and other raw meat, is to prevent cross-contamination with ready-to-eat food.

Those most at risk of getting sick from food poisoning are the very young, the elderly, those with an existing medical condition and pregnant women.

In general, the HSE's 10 tips to reduce the risk of food poisoning are: Wash your hands; wash worktops; wash dishcloths; use a separate chopping board for raw meat and fish; keep raw meat separate; store raw meat on the bottom shelf; cook food thoroughly; keep your fridge below 5C, cool leftovers quickly; and respect 'use-by' dates

What about eggs?

Dr Gordon said eggs produced in Ireland are done so under very tight salmonella control measures so the risk of having salmonella is low.

She said people in vulnerable groups should avoid eating undercooked eggs or homemade mayonnaise made with raw eggs.

This includes children under the age of five, those that are pregnant, those with compromised immune systems and older people.

"Those people should only eat eggs that have been cooked thoroughly," she said.

Should I wash my raw chicken?

Dr Gordon said people are not advised to wash raw meat.

"We always advise people not to wash poultry or any raw meat under the tap," she said.

"You are risking spreading any harmful bacteria that might be on the surface. It could spread around the kitchen in tiny droplets onto other surfaces or anything else nearby," she said.

Dr Gordon said affected droplets could spready up to 80cm from the sink.

How do you treat food poisoning?

Food poisoning is not usually serious and most people get better within a few days. The HSE said you can normally treat yourself or your child at home.

"While it is a very unpleasant illness, it is managed at home and most people won't need medical attention," Dr Gordon said.

The HSE advises people to stay off school or work until the symptoms have stopped for two days as this is when you're most infectious.

"Rest and drink fluids to prevent dehydration. Try to drink plenty of water, even if you can only sip it," the HSE said.

"Eat when you feel up to it. Try small, light meals at first and stick to bland foods, such as toast and rice until you begin to feel better," it added.

It also said oral rehydration solutions are recommended for vulnerable people, such as the elderly.

You should contact your GP if you are unable to keep down any fluids due to vomiting, or your symptoms are not improving after a few days.

You should also contact them if you have symptoms of severe dehydration such as confusion, a rapid heartbeat and passing little or no urine

Vulnerable people should also contact their GP.

What happens if salmonella is detected in products?

The FSAI would be involved in recalling any affected product that made it to market.

It said there has been no need to recall products and the focus is on containing it on the affected farms.

It said there has been no human illness linked with the outbreaks but added that the main message to consumers is to always make sure to cook chicken thoroughly.

Recall notices would be published on the FSAI website as well as at points of sale and consumers would be advised not to eat affected batches.