Salmonella and Backyard Chickens

November 13, 2012

When someone says 'Salmonella' you most likely immediately think uncooked eggs or poultry, and you would be right (although it can be contracted from eating contaminated produce as well).  Salmonella IS most often contracted from un- or under-cooked poultry products, and in fact it is estimated that 1 in 20,000 eggs contain Salmonella.  So should you be concerned about salmonella in your backyard flock?  Well, let's take a look at what Salmonella is, how it is contracted and if it can be prevented.

What is it?  Skipping all the technical mumbo-jumbo, Salmonella (or Salmonellosis) is a bacterial disease affecting the intestinal tract of humans, chickens and other birds and mammals.  It is the same bacteria that causes typhoid fever.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms in humans include cramps, diarrhea, nausea, chills, fever and/or headaches. The symptoms generally appear within 6-72 hours of eating contaminated food and can last up to a week.  Generally not fatal in healthy adults who often recover without seeing a doctor, salmonella can result in death in the elderly, sick, those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women and children if it is not treated with antibiotics and if it moves through the blood stream and to other organs in the body.

Symptoms in chickens include weak and lethargic birds, loose yellow or green droppings, purplish combs and wattles, a drop in egg production, increased thirst, decreased feed consumption and weight loss. It can be deadly in hens if not treated.

Here's a good article from the website

8 Outbreaks Linked to Backyard Chickens: How it Happens and How to Protect Your Family

-photo courtesy of the CDC showing YTD cases as of May 25, 2017-

How is it spread?  Fortunately not an airborne disease, the bacteria is usually spread to chickens through rat or mouse droppings in water, feed, damp soil or bedding/litter. [Read how to keep your coop rodent-free here]  It is also passed down through the egg to chicks by mother hens who are infected.

The Salmonella can then be transmitted to humans who eat improperly cooked meat or eggs from infected birds or by putting their hands in their mouth after touching chickens or eggs that have come in contact with contaminated rodent or chicken feces.  Children under five years old make up a large number of Salmonella cases, most likely from hand to mouth transmission of the bacteria.

How is it prevented? Good personal hygiene as well as keeping a clean chicken coop and run are the best ways to prevent salmonella. Backyard biosecurity is critical [Read more here].  Cooking destroys the bacteria, so be sure to cook eggs properly before eating if you are concerned. Freezing does NOT kill salmonella however.

Here are some other tips to preventing the spread of salmonella:
  • Buy chicks from reputable sources to lessen the chances they have the disease
  • Always wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds after handling chicks, hens or eggs
  • Teach children not to put their hands in their mouths, especially when around the chickens
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after being around your chickens
  • Discard cracked or extremely dirty eggs
  • Don't wash eggs when you collect them. Allow the natural 'bloom' to protect the inside of the egg from bacteria entering [Read more here about egg handling]
  • Keep your flock's immune systems strong and your hens as healthy as possible 
  • Rinse eggs in warm water just prior to cooking them
  • Cook eggs to at least 160 degrees so the whites are firm
  • Cook poultry to at least 165 degrees so no pink remains and juices run clear
  • Keep raw poultry separate from other foods and consider using a cutting board dedicated only to poultry
  • Use disposable paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces instead of sponges or dishcloths
  • If you feed eggshells back to your chickens, but sure you rinse the shells and let them air dry for several hours at least before crushing them and feeding them back (salmonella can only survive for 1-4 hours out in the open air on a hard surface)
What do I do if I think my flock is infected? An avian lab or vet can test your flock for Salmonella and then treatment with antibiotics is one course you can take.  But instead give Sage a try.  Recent studies have shown that the culinary herb Sage is reported to combat salmonella. Fresh chopped sage offered to your flock free-choice, dried sage added to their feed or sage essential oils in the water might help to beat down the bacteria.  Adding sage to your flock's regular diet is a good preventive in any case.  Sage is often used in recipes for roast chicken and other chicken dishes. Coincidence? I think not. I think generations ago, through the years, someone figured out the correlation and the two foods began to be paired.

Surviving chickens will be carriers of the disease however, and eggs laid by those hens can contain the bacteria.   Fortunately, the likelihood is that Salmonella won't live inside an egg.  It would be found in the egg white, which is an alkaline environment and doesn't contain the proper nutrients for the bacteria to thrive.

However, the longer the egg sits out without being refrigerated or cooked, the greater chance the bacteria will move towards the yolk and eventually penetrate the yolk, who's nutrient-rich environment will allow the bacteria to grow. Salmonella can live for weeks or months surrounded by the egg proteins.

The good news is that your backyard eggs, as long as proper precautions are taken, are unlikely to contain or transmit Salmonella to your family.  The threat of Salmonella should NOT dissuade you from raising backyard chickens, handling them as often as possible OR cooking with your eggs. 

I enjoy making Egg Nog, Mayonnaise, Pasta Carbonara and Tiramisu with our fresh eggs, all of which contain uncooked or partially cooked eggs. I don't worry because I know (and control) how our flock is housed, fed and raised as well as how our eggs are collected and stored.

Suggested Reading:


  1. Good info! I love my chickens and enjoy learning more about them.

  2. Great article. The CDC reports unprecedented incidence of salmonellosis last year. Unfortunately most was linked to backyard chickens BUT most of the chickens in question were traced to one breeder in Ohio. You can "catch stuff" from your birds but you can catch stuff from your dog or cat too. You just have to be sensible! Wash your hands!

    1. Exactly. And did you know in the UK feeding your chickens anything that has passed through your kitchen is against the law because studies have shown there is more salmonella in the average kitchen than the average chicken coop. How scary is that?

  3. So you refrigerate your eggs and don't wash them till you're ready to use them? Do u give your chickens any meds or probiotics as preventive

  4. I have Garden Sage, it has wider leaves, I am not sure if other properties of it are different though. Should this kind work the same? Do your chickens like it? Mine seemed to turn their beaks up to it but they were free ranging and had just gotten a lot of bread!

    1. Sure I believe all sage varieties have similar benefits. I dry and crush lots of herbs and add them to their feed through the winter. You could try that.

  5. Kristy SchemrichJuly 16, 2015 at 9:59 PM

    I wanted to comment about what happened to a friend of mine. She was outside while her son was using the riding mower. He ran over a cow's hoof that her dog chew's on in the yard. It flew across the yard and hit her in the leg and hand. She had pretty bad open wounds. In the meantime, she is caring for baby ducks. All of a sudden she started to get sick. Diarrhea, fever, etc. Finally got better, then got the same symptoms back again. This went on and on for about 3 weeks. She finally went to the doctor and tested positive for salmonella poisoning. It was all because she didn't have her wounds covered!!

  6. Donna Allgaier-LambertiJuly 17, 2015 at 5:27 PM

    I've know more people who have gotten food poisoning from eating in restaurants than those getting Salmonella from their chickens. I personally do not worry....I just change my clothing, shoes and wash up well. We have a dog too and do the same. Our dog sleeps with us so I wash our bed quilt monthly too. The stark truth is dogs have parasites and humans do too. Life is too short to worry about the "it could happens!"


© Fresh Eggs Daily®. Design by FCD.