Salmonella and other pathogenic bugs can survive for at least six months in holiday cookies and crackers that kids (and those young at heart) are likely so fond of.

A study led by University of Georgia researchers discovered this as they were prompted to probe the growing number of foodborne disease outbreaks, particularly those linked to contaminated dry foods. They ventured to find out how long the bacteria causing the illness can survive in certain food items.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Food Protection.

Study lead author Larry Beuchat, professor emeritus of agricultural and environmental sciences at UGA, said the findings were unexpected.

“We wouldn't expect salmonella to grow in foods that have a very dry environment," said Beuchat in a press release.

Beuchat and co-author, researcher David Mann, found that harmful bacteria can also thrive in dry foods like these holiday cookies – and do so for a long span of time.

How Salmonella Survived In Dry Goods

The team used five types of salmonella obtained from foods in previous disease outbreaks, specifically from low-moisture foods. Then they added the salmonella to four filling types found in cookies and crackers: vanilla and chocolate for the former, and cheese and peanut butter for the latter.

They saw that the bacteria survived in all types of fillings, but thrived longer and better in crackers than in cookies. In some instances, the pathogen lived for a minimum of six months in the sandwiches.

The salmonella’s length of survival in dry foods was dubbed “unexpected [and] unusual,” as they typically grow in highly moist environments.

"The next steps would be to test all ingredients that are used in these foods," added Beuchat, who cited that they may recommend halting the use of certain ingredients if foodborne pathogens are detected in them.

Salmonella Dangers And Causes

Salmonella is pinpointed for about 1 million cases of foodborne disease in the U.S. annually. Every year, about 19,000 hospitalizations occur due to salmonella, with 380 Americans dying from poisoning.

This bacteria – discovered by American expert Dr. Salmon – can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps up to 72 hours after infection.

While salmonella infection may pass after four to seven days sans treatment, more serious instances can take place and involve severe diarrhea, infection spread to the bloodstream, and sometimes death. Treatment usually involves antibiotics.

What are common salmonella sources to watch out for?

These included food and water touched by traces of animal feces, with beef, poultry, milk, eggs, and fish as the most prone to contamination. However, any food including fruits, vegetables, and processed items can transmit the bacteria.

Salmonella contamination can occur in various forms, such as in stores, raw meat or poultry drippings contaminating kitchen or refrigerator surfaces, and using a knife and cutting board for food preparation without proper washing.

Watch out, too, as salmonella foods usually smell and appear normal.

Holiday Cookies As Salmonella Target

Cookies could particularly end up being salmonella-laced as they contain eggs, which possibly only get briefly cooked during the baking process.

So if there are young, pregnant, or elderly guests at the holiday party – the ones who are more likely to be severely affected by salmonella contamination – the host may want to explore vegan cookie baking.

Going vegan may also be a sound option if cookie leftovers will be kept at room temperature for a while.

Photo: Oakley Originals | Flickr

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