Campylobacter is still number one when it comes to bacterial food poisoning in the UK. It is estimated that every year around 280,000 people suffer from this disease, and on average there are 110 deaths – which works out at about one every three days.
Campylobacter Fact File
- It takes only a few bacteria to make you ill (as few as 500) (Robinson, D. A. (1981). Infective dose of Campylobacter jejuni in milk. British Medical Journal, 282(6276), 1584).
- It’s found in raw chicken, liver (chicken, beef, lamb), unpasteurised milk, wild birds, and there have been associations with eggs.
- If you cook raw foods thoroughly, to 75°C then you will have killed the bug (see below on how to check)
- When you get infected with Campylobacter it takes 2-5 days to show signs of illness
- It gives you really painful diarrhoea and abdominal pain
- It can cause complications such as reactive arthritis and Guillain Barré syndrome
- Whilst there are outbreaks, most cases appear to be sporadic (one isolated case at a time)
- A recent study by the Food Standards Agency found that 73% of raw retail chickens were contaminated with Campylobacter, and it was present on the packaging of 7% (mostly in low amounts).
How do people get ill?
As most cases are sporadic, they could be caused by accidental contamination – wrong place, wrong time. Bacteria get from the source (i.e. raw chicken, for example) into someone’s mouth either directly or indirectly. Let’s think of some scenarios:
- Touch chicken – lick your fingers, bite your nails
- Touch chicken – eat a bag of crisps, feed finger food to a baby – make a drink (contaminate the rim of the glass or beaker), prepare a sandwich, make a chicken wrap
- Touch chicken – touch other surfaces – taps, handles, fridge door, cooker knobs, someone else touches the contaminated surfaces (see (1) or (2) above
- Wash chicken in the sink – it sprays on other things, taps, work-surfaces, even ready to eat foods or crockery drying up nearby
You can add the scenarios for people touching chicken packaging in a supermarket or butcher’s shop:
- Hands contaminate surfaces such as trolley handle, chip and pin, other foods, bags, money,
- Chicken packed with other ready-to eat foods contaminates them and the bag (bag for life)
- The check-out person touches many packs of chicken in a shift, and touches ready-to-eat food packs, transferring the bacteria
The options are endless, and that is probably why this is such a problem! And then of course, someone cleans up with a cloth – collects all the bacteria together and spreads them further round the kitchen!
So top tips to beat Campylobacter!
- Consider your hands dirty when you go shopping – not just chicken, but raw meat and vegetables could be contaminated with unwelcome bacteria – so don’t eat or feed your kids without washing your hands first! If you are hungry on the move, then use an antibacterial hand gel first.
- If you work on the till, then wash your hands before taking a break as well as before coming back to work (think hand to mouth – cigarette, food – it is all a possibility for a route to infection)
- After unpacking the shopping, wash your hands – 20 seconds with soap and warm water, paper towel (not the tea towel) to dry
- After handling raw chicken or meat, take utensils to the sink or dishwasher. Use the highest temperature on your dishwasher (bacteria are not killed at eco temperatures such as 30-40°C unless there is a chemical disinfectant). If no dishwasher, then use an anti-microbial spray on these items to kill the bacteria. Follow instructions – it can take a little time to work.
- Wash your hands!
- To clean work surfaces, don’t use a cloth and soapy water – you will just be spreading the bacteria around and the water will not be hot enough to kill bacteria – I use an anti-bacterial spray and paper towel or an anti-bacterial wipe – once and in the bin.
- Think about what you might have touched and disinfect – fridge handles, cocker knobs, drawer handles.
- Finally wash your hands again – for your own sake if for no-one else’s! 500 Bacteria on your hands and into your mouth could be enough to make you ill.
Remember: it’s not the last thing you ate that caused Campylobacter – it may have been something you touched two or three days ago. Thermometers to check food are very inexpensive and easy to use – why take a chance?