• Mechanically Tenderised Meat

    Dr Lisa Ackerley explains why we need to know if our steak is Mechanically Tenderised meat

    Mechanically tenderising meat is common and the process has been used by suppliers, restaurants and retailers for many years to improve the tenderness and flavour of meat. Basically this process pushes metal spikes into meat to break up the muscle and tenderise it.

    Many people know that it is important to cook burgers all the way through because contamination present on the outside of meat will be mixed all the way through when the meat is minced. So whilst it is possible to eat a rare steak, as the bacteria on the contaminated outer surfaces will be killed during searing, bacteria in the centre of a burger will not be killed unless the internal temperature of the burger reaches 75 °C.

    However, if meat is mechanically tenderised, this means that the process may result in pathogens such as E. coli O157 being pushed all the way through the meat from the external surfaces. It would therefore be unwise to eat these products rare.

    In the USA and Canada there is considerable pressure being mounted on the USDA to make sure meats are labelled clearly if they are mechanically tenderised, so that people are aware of the potential risk and can cook the meats properly. This was because there have been recent recalls across the Atlantic following an outbreak of E.coli O157 associated with mechanically tenderized meat. The next question that has arisen in Canada and the USA is should consumers and purchasers of catering meat be advised that they are buying mechanically tenderized meat?




    Also, be aware that if you poke anything into a solid piece of meat, such as a skewer, you may be pushing bacteria from the outside to the inside – so another reason to cook meat thoroughly on the barbeque!

    Just 10-20 E. coli bacteria can make you ill

  • Unpasteurised Cheese – should you eat it?

    Unpasteurised cheese can be quite delicious, and many of us enjoy eating it, but is it safe?

    Certainly the advice is for pregnant women to avoid unpasteurised soft cheese such as Brie and Camembert in addition to blue soft cheese as these may contain Listeria, the bug that can cause miscarriage, apart from other symptoms. There are about 150 cases of Listeria a year, of which around 20-30 are pregnancy associated. This doesn’t sound like much, but approximately one third of people who contract Listeria die, so it is a serious illness.

    The Food Standards Agency says that Listeria costs the country £245 million per year and this seems very high  However, most people who contract Listeria have to be hospitalised.

    Who is at risk? Vulnerable groups to Listeria are:

    • Pregnant women
    • People over 60 years old
    • Immunosuppressed people (eg those being treated for cancer)

    What foods should vulnerable people avoid?

    The Food Standards Agency mentions that Listeria monocytogenes has been found in certain foods, so it’s best to avoid them:

    • chilled ready-to-eat foods:
    • prepacked sandwiches
    • pâté
    • butter
    • soft mould-ripened cheeses
    • cooked sliced meats
    • smoked salmon

    If you want to know more information about what foods to avoid when pregnant go to this NHS web-page.

    What should the rest of us do?

    Top tips to keep safe:

    • Follow the use-by date, particularly for the foods listed above which vulnerable groups should avoid.
    • Make sure your fridge is operating below 5°C if possible – check with a thermometer. You can get fridge thermometers from us for all sorts of prices, including a wireless digital one that has a display on the outside.
    • Cook ready meals till piping hot in the centre – 75 °C (use a probe to confirm the temperature)
    • Once opened, use foods within 2 days unless the label says otherwise
    • If you do have foods that may be contaminated with Listeria (such as unpasteurised cheese), keep them separate from pasteurised cheese if you have some vulnerable people in your home.

     The Food Standards Agency has produced a Listeria Fact Sheet

    Listeria death rate



  • Undercooked Liver – Beware!

    Undercooked Liver could be dangerousDr Lisa Ackerley Discusses the Dangers of Undercooked Liver

    Many of us watch cookery programmes on TV, but we need to be careful – for example, ‘Saturday Kitchen’ (17 Dec 2011) advised viewers to cook liver pink – potentially very risky thing to do. The reason for this is that chicken, ox and lamb livers can contain a very nasty bug called Campylobacter. This bacterium can cause severe diarrhoea and can lead to stomach pains being so severe that in the past patients have had their appendix removed in error, as hospitals have misdiagnosed their illness. The single greatest cause of Campylobacter outbreaks at catering events in 2011 was found to be undercooked chicken liver parfaits. http://www.hpa.org.uk/NewsCentre/NationalPressReleases/2011PressReleases/111202Campylobacterinchickenlivers/

    EHO Action on Undercooked Liver

    EHOs in London have been taking a strong stance on not allowing restaurants to serve undercooked liver of any type. Brasserie Blanc in Covent Garden, linked to Michelin Starred Chef Raymond Blanc, was issued a warning in June 2012 after a complaint linking the restaurant to a confirmed case of Campylobacter.  A second confirmed case in August highlighted that chefs had not heeded the warning, leading to Westminster Council serving a notice preventing the restaurant from serving undercooked lambs liver. The Brasserie Bar Co, which has 18 restaurants, has taken the decision to no longer serve liver at any of its restaurants stating that “in order to serve liver and comply with Westminster Council, it would need to be overcooked to such an extent that our customers just won’t eat it.”

    Recipes Still Say Undercook Liver

    A quick trawl of the internet on how chefs advise on cooking liver shows the message is still to cook it quickly and keep it pink!! Whilst nobody wants cremated inedible liver (I’m sure a lot of us can remember the grainy, tough  liver in school dinners), the advice from the Food Standards Agency is that all liver is cooked to a temperature of 70°C for 2 minutes or 75°C for 15 seconds to kill any bacteria.  I’d add that good general hygiene practices be followed to avoid cross contamination with Campylobacter and that hand washing after handling any raw meat is also critical.

    So the choice is: Do as Monsieur Blanc has done and take liver off the menu; or ensure that at least minimum core temperatures are achieved to kill the bugs. We routinely work with companies trying to get the balance between product quality and consumer safety.

    In the same way that I recently tested if duck could be cooked ‘pink’ whilst still reaching a safe cooking temperature, I intend this weekend to experiment with liver and cooking temperatures….I’m sure “him indoors” can’t wait!

  • Are you washing up in a bacterial soup?

    Dr Lisa Ackerley was commissioned to find out how people were washing up

    Recently for the Stop Washing Up Campaign we carried out a survey to see what people got up to when they washed up.

     Key findings were:

    • Water was too cold to kill bacteria -most families were using lukewarm water!
    • Washing up bowls were contaminated with bacteria
    • 95% of scourers and sponges were disgusting – some even had E. coli on them!
    • 60% of tea towels were unsatisfactory – some also had E.coli on them
    • People use their sinks for cleaning all sorts of items – from dog bowls to football boots!Read More

    The trouble I have found is that if water is hot enough temperature to kill bacteria –  then it could burn your hands!

    But if you don’t kill dangerous bacteria that could be present on raw meat and poultry, then this could make you ill.

    What can you do? In this video I discuss washing up by hand.



    It makes you want to rush out and get a dishwasher!

    Dishwashers can give you reassurance of a hygienic washIf you can’t afford a dishwasher, you will still need to kill dangerous bacteria which may survive unless your dish washing water temperature is above 60 °C (this would scald you)!

    Here are some tips:

    • If you prepare raw chicken or meat clean utensils and work surfaces with an anti-bacterial spray and paper towel
    • After washing up, pour a final hot water rinse over crockery and utensil to kill the bacteria
    • Change your tea towel every day and wash them at 60 °C or above
    • Wash your dishcloths with tea towels (I gather up a few days’ worth and then do them all together)
    • Drain your dishes in a clean drainer (check out the cutlery drainer – it quickly gets horrid)!
  • School Science Class Year 5

    Making School Science Exciting – and encouraging good hygiene practices!

    Dr Lisa Ackerley, The Hygiene Doctor

    I was asked to run a science class at a local school for 40 Year 5 children (aged 9-10). Using an ultra-violet light torch and glow-in-the-dark powder, we carried out 3 experiments to bring microbiology to life and show how invisible organisms can spread. Some of the children had seen me doing something very similar on GMTV in the summer.

    Bacteria are Invisible, but they are Everywhere

    First I explained that you can’t see bacteria and viruses with the naked eye, and that whilst most micro-organisms are harmless, some can cause illness, and these are called pathogens. Our experiments were to demonstrate how bacteria and viruses could spread. Because the powder is invisible in bright light, it is very useful to show how invisible micro-organisms can transfer from hand to hand or surface to surface around the home.

    Hand to Hand Transfer of BacteriaUV light reveals dirty hands

    Group one was asked to form a line and the first girl shook my hand, then turned round and shook the hand of the girl behind and so on to the end. Then we dimmed the lights and using the torch we could see the spread of the powder from one girl to the next. This demonstrated how germs could spread via hands. The powder was still visible on the 7th hand! Obviously the importance of hand-washing was becoming evident….

    Uv torch reveals dirty clothTea Towels – How they can Transfer Bacteria

    Group 2 used a tea towel to wipe dry some wet drinking beakers. What they didn’t know is that I had put some of the powder on the tea towel! When we shone the torch on the cups, the powder could be seen on the inside of the cups. This showed how important it is to wash the tea towel regularly so that you are not putting bacteria onto your clean crockery and cutlery when drying up.

    Cleaning – can make things Dirtier!

    Group 3 were asked to go and “clean” some surfaces in the classroom with a cloth – and guess what? There was some glow in the dark powder on the cloth too. So when we shone the torch on the surfaces, we saw how the powder had transferred to surfaces. This demonstrated how dangerous a dirty cloth could be. I told them about all the dirty cloths we found in the UK survey, many of them with E.coli on.

    Toilet HygieneGreen is clean swabs show up dirty surfaces

    Group 4 used the “green is clean” swab to see if there were any dirty areas in the toilets and classroom – but well done school cleaners – all was sparkling!!

    Hand Washing

    Finally, as the powder was now on nearly everyone’s hands, I played a little trick, and asked everyone to go and wash their hands. Then I used the torch to see who had done it properly – oh dear! We then had a discussion on how to make sure that the backs of hands are washed, between the fingers and nails. The time it takes to sing “happy birthday to you” all the way through twice is how long you should take. So I guess it will be quite noisy at the sinks now – sorry teachers!!

    We then gave out homework sheets and one task was to invent a bug, draw a picture of it and give it a name.

    Teachers: For a session plan and UV powder and a torch contact us: info@thehygienedoctor.co.uk

     UV Germ kit


  • Don’t have your poo and eat it.

    The Hygiene Doctor takes on the risky subject of poo!


    Recently I was watching the Oscar-winning film The Help and was laughing at the scene where Minny cooks the fateful poo pie.  Like most people I was horrified at the thought of eating poo, but it got me thinking that in many circumstances, people may be unconsciously doing just that!

    Many of the home hygiene studies we do have identified faecal contamination in some fairly surprising places around the home, garden and even on items in handbags!

    Faecal contamination is the posh word for “poo”. So how is poo getting around the house?

    Hand washing -it stops faceal contamination

    Wash your hands after using the toilet

    It’s so basic you might think I’m wasting my time talking about it, but you would be amazed at the high number of Britons who don’t actually wash their hands after going to the toilet. A recent study showed that as many as 26% of UK hands have faecal matter on them at any one time. That’s around 16.5million pairs of hands!

    If you don’t wash your hands, faeces can easily transfer to food, or to crockery and cutlery which means the chances of ingestion are high and if someone is carrying a nasty bug such as norovirus then it can quickly do the rounds. Even if you haven’t done a “number 2” then the person using the facilities before you may have, leaving bacteria on the toilet flush and door handle!

    School Children

    It is especially important to teach children the importance of hand washing as that way they will carry the good habits on into adulthood. I recently went into a school to do a hand washing science session, with some surprising results. You can read more about that visit on my school blog.

    Many schools have a policy that children may not return to school until 48 hours after the child has had no symptoms of food poisoning. However, it is known that norovirus and other dangerous food poisoning organisms can be carried for many days, if not weeks after the symptoms were showing. Even more worrying, it is estimated that around 16% of the population carry norovirus without having any symptoms.

    So the important message is (sorry) HAND WASHING, HAND WASHING, HAND WASHING!

    How to Wash your Hands

    Hand washing doesn’t mean a quick swill under the tap:

    • Wet the hands
    • Put on soap
    • Rub your hands together
    • Rub in between the fingers
    • In your palms, interlock your fingers to rub soap into your nails
    • Lather round your thumbs and fingertips
    • Rinse
    • Dry on a clean towel or better still a paper towel.

    Watch this video to see how you should wash your hands:

    If someone is ill

    Hand washing is even more important if you or anyone in your family is ill with any infectious disease from colds and flu to food poisoning.

    Is it worth it you may ask? Well think about how much money illness can cost, let alone the pain and suffering!

    Here are some of the financial costs:

    • Time off work
    • Time off work looking after children
    • Prescriptions and over-the counter medication
    • Travel to hospital, doctor, chemist
    • Parking at the hospital, doctors or chemists
    • Additional cleaning and laundry
    • Missing clubs, activities and special events you have paid for
    • Missing nursery or childcare you have paid for

    So spending a little time washing your hands is worth it!

     Doctoid - facts about food safety from Dr Lisa Ackerley, the Hygiene Doctor

  • Pets are great, but take care when cleaning up dog poo

    Dog Poo and What to do with It!

    Dog Poo – how to stay safe

    Dog Poo Bins

    Over the last 20 years the British public have become much, much better at cleaning up after their dogs, but there is still a risk from the poo bins that you find in most public spaces, as with so many ‘deposits’ being made into these there is a risk of contamination on the lids and sides. Sadly I don’t have a dog at the moment, but here are some practical tips for dealing with poo!Read more

  • Kitchen Cloths – Don’t Muddle them Up!

    Dr Lisa Ackerley says make sure you’re not making your home dirtier when cleaning up!

    Make sure your kitchen cloth is not used for the floor

    Recently my PA told me about how she got into a bit of a strop with her boyfriend when she caught him using the dishcloth on the floor. As she rightly pointed out, as she had just walked in with her outdoor shoes on, effectively if he had used the same cloth for cleaning the dishes, it was like having the bottom of her trainers being rubbed all over the teaspoons, and of course, we all know that trainers could have been walked though anything!

    How dirty is your cloth?

    In our home hygiene studies we have found that the cloth is often the dirtiest item in the home. We have found billions of bacteria on cloths, including those which could cause illness, and those that indicate faecal contamination. Faecal contamination means that either bacteria have been picked up directly from faeces (poo) or from raw meat or vegetables that have been in contact with faeces. Either way, it’s not good. In effect, using a contaminated cloth could mean that instead of cleaning you are effectively “dirtying.” What a waste of time, and what a potential danger to your family!

    Top Tips for Cloths

    • Make sure that you always use separate cloths for high risk cleaning areas such as the floor, or the toilet – use different types and colours so it is obvious
    • For floor spillages, use paper towels or wipes that you throw away
    • If you have been preparing raw meat or poultry, treat the area as very dirty, and use anti-bacterial sprays and paper towels or anti-bacterial wipes
    • Wash cloths on a hot wash – over 60°C, preferably on a boil wash to get them free of dangerous bacteria

    It might seem like an extra chore, but it could make all the difference to your family’s health.

    Doctoid Fact from Dr Lisa Ackerley, the Hygiene Doctor - 40% of food poisoning is caused in the home

  • Have you got a tummy bug?

    What is a tummy bug? Dr Lisa Ackerley Investigates

    Food Standards Agency Report.

    According to the Food Standards Agency, around 1 in 4 of the population suffers from an episode of Infectious Intestinal Disease (IID) in a year – representing an amazing possible 17 million cases annually.[1] An IID is caused by a pathogenic micro-organism. In simple terms, it’s a tummy bug that someone has eaten which causes symptoms such as vomiting and or diarrhoea.

    Whilst most micro-organisms are harmless, there are also plenty that can cause harm. Norovirus accounts for the highest number of incidents, at around 3 million cases per year. Easily passed from one person to another, it can be picked up from food (oysters), water, and almost any hard surface touched by an infected person who has not washed their hands after using the toilet or if someone has vomited nearby (the projectile vomit can go a long way)! Thankfully, most sufferers recover relatively quickly, within a few days – BUT they may still be carrying the virus so good hand washing after using the toilet is absolutely essential.

    What caused my tummy bug?

    It’s actually very difficult to find out what caused someone to be ill – believe me, I spend a lot of time dealing with cases!hand washing - an important way of preventing the spread of disease

    When someone says they have a tummy bug, they often think it is the last thing they ate that caused the illness, but in fact it may be something they ate some time ago.

    Take Campylobacter for example, (which is found on raw chicken, and can spread through cross-contamination and lack of hand washing after preparing raw meat and poultry), can take up to 11 days before symptoms appear.

    So just because you throw up your last meal, it doesn’t mean that was the cause of the illness.

    How to prevent getting a tummy bug

    • Wash your hands after using the toilet – and try not to touch surfaces in the toilet afterwards!
    • Avoid cloth towels unless in your own bathroom – they can harbour germs
    • Always wash your hands before eating – especially if you have been on public transport or are out in a restaurant – if you have picked up norovirus and then eat food using your fingers, you will infect yourself!
    • Wash hands after preparing raw meat, poultry, fish and, vegetables – stop the bacteria spreading!

    If someone in your house has a tummy bug

    • Take special care when cleaning up – use anti-bacterial or anti-viral products – I really like Dettol Disinfectant Spray and Cleansers as they kill viruses and bacteria (good for flu and colds as well)
    • Use disinfectant wipes to clean hard surfaces such as door handles, floors, toilet flush, toilet seat
    • Use disposable gloves to clean up and then bin them
    • Wash your hands (I wash mine twice if dealing with something really horrid)!  See my blog on hand-washing
    • The patient should use their own hand towel




    [1] Food Standards Agency (2000).  A report of infectious intestinal disease in England.  London: The Stationary Office.

    [2] Tam CC, Rodrigues LC, Viviani L et al.  Longitudinal study of infectious intestinal disease in the UK (IID2 Study): incidence in the community and presenting to general practice. Gut. 2011 Jul 5

  • Is it Safe to Eat Pink Duck?

    The Hygiene Doctor discusses whether you should serve rare duck

    I’m often asked if it is safe to eat pink duck. The most important thing is actually whether the temperature has got high enough for potentially dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella or Campylobacter to be killed.

    Cooking whole poultry

    If cooking a whole chicken or duck, check the area between the thigh and the breast (the thickest part); the core temperature should be 75°C.

    Cooking duck breast

    Pink duck is safe if it is over 75 CIf checking a duck breast, put the probe in the centre of thickest part of the breast.

    The good news is that it is possible to cook duck to this safe core cooking temperature and yet still retain some pinkness to the flesh, as shown from the photograph of my dinner last night!

    Remember that food continues to cook after you have taken it out of the pan or oven, which is why chefs “rest” meat after cooking – so take it off the heat a little early, put in the thermometer and leave it – watch the temperature go up till it reaches 75°C. If it doesn’t get that high, then take out the probe, (disinfect it) and pop the duck back in the pan again for a few minutes. You can always cook it a bit more if you need to.

    If you want to never over or under cook food again, buy a thermometer like this from Hygiene Audit Systems for only £20 please contact us on 01727 866779 for more details or to pay by credit card.

    Remember: if using a probe thermometer to check that food has reached a core temperature of 75°C, it must be clean and disinfected before use.

    Top tips to clean the thermometer:

    • Use an antibacterial spray and some paper towels
    • Use antibacterial wipes
    • Put the probe tip into boiling water (if you are doing peas or potatoes, then that is just fine)!