Campylobacter is in the news again – what are the key facts?
Campylobacter is a bacterium that causes very unpleasant illness, which in England and Wales kills around 100 people per year. It is estimated that there may be 460,000 cases per year and 22,000 hospitalisations annually. The illness can linger on for over a week. It causes severe diarrhoea, acute abdominal pain, and can result in complications such as reactive arthritis.
Where does it come from?
In the EU around 50-80% of illness is attributed to poultry. Over 60% of retail poultry has been found to contain Campylobacter in a UK study, but the figure may be much higher in Europe where 75% has been quoted. It is also found on other meats and in the environment – wild birds carry it and leave it in their faeces and in water courses.
How do people get ill at home?
- Campylobacter is infectious in very low doses, so you don’t need much to make you ill.
- Contamination has been found on meat and poultry packaging, so the risks can start at the supermarkets.
- On the way home, the bag can be contaminated (over and over again if a bag for life).
- When you get home other opportunities for contamination can be in your fridge (on to ready-to-eat food), on surfaces, utensils and hands. Clean up with a cloth, and it’s on there too!
- If you undercook chicken or chicken livers, then you are heading for trouble, as the bacteria could survive.
What can be done to be safe?
Understanding the routes of transmission is the first thing – and you can see that hand washing with soap would be very useful at a number of times:
- After doing the shopping
- After putting foods away in the fridge
- After preparing chicken and meat
You also need to clean up to kill any Campylobacter on surfaces or utensils. Hot soapy water in my opinion is not enough – I am worried that the cloth will get contaminated and then spread the bacteria all round the kitchen!
Here are my recommendations:
- Use the dishwasher on a hot wash for utensils
- If washing up by hand, put dirty utensils in the sink and (carefully)! pour boiling water over them – could be when draining the peas!
- Use an anti-bacterial cleansing spray on the surfaces with disposable paper towels. You don’t need to get through bucket loads of the stuff – a bottle can last a long time if you just use it when you really need to.
- If you use a cloth, then you will need to disinfect it after use and then leave it to dry – or if disposable, throw it away.
- Cook poultry and poultry products all the way through – 75 °C is recommended and you can only measure that with a clean probe thermometer. These are very cheap – less than £20. Believe me, that is money well spent! You can’t always tell by looking at food colour whether it is cooked enough. And I am not saying that because we are selling them!
So once it’s in the pan – blitz those surfaces, utensils and hands, cook thoroughly and job done!