• Some restaurants may serve pink burgers, but cook well at home

    Burgers Again

    The burger conundrum continues. Today is National Burger Day, and the Food Standards Agency is rightfully explaining to consumers why they need to cook a burger all the way through. Burgers are not like steak where just the outside surface could be contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli (and can be cooked off, leaving the middle rare). Burger meat is made from the outside and inside surfaces all minced up together, making the inside of a burger potentially contaminated.

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  • Controlling Campylobacter in the Kitchen

    People often think it is the last thing they ate that caused them to have food poisoning, but rarely consider that it may actually not have been the food they ate, but the food they prepared!

    Raw chicken is sadly still highly likely to be contaminated with Campylobacter – the latest FSA study still puts the figures at 59% of raw whole retail chickens being contaminated, and whilst this is an improvement, it means that we need to still think that the chances of having a contaminated chicken at home is high.

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  • Wash berries to protect against norovirus

    Berries and Salads – what’s the risk?

    Berries and salads are popular and highly nutritious. The trouble is, they could be contaminated with some micro-organisms we could do without: norovirus, E. coli, Salmonella to name but a few.

    A recent study in Denmark highlights the risks, and advises that consumers should wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before use. But what about frozen berries such as raspberries (which I admit I am very keen on in smoothies)? You can hardly wash these, and they are sold as a read-to-eat food.

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  • Don’t Eat the Daffodils!

     

    Public Health England Letter about Daffodils

    I’ve just been on BBC Radio 5 Live to comment on the story about daffodils that’s hit the headlines this morning. A letter sent by Public Health England has asked retailers to keep daffodils separate to fruit and vegetables because there are rare instances of people mistaking them for food. They are poisonous and could potentially cause nausea, vomiting, rashes and even death. However, there have been 63 enquiries in the last 6 years, so it is hardly as significant as something like Campylobacter which poisons over 250,000 people per year and causes around 100 deaths – just in England and Wales. This organism is found on 70% of chickens, according to the Food Standards Agency, and was identified on 6% of chicken packaging.

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  • Campylobacter: freezing chicken

    Freezing Campylobacter

    The newspapers are awash with articles today about how freezing chicken can kill Campylobacter off – this would certainly be welcome news as this organism causes the highest levels of bacterial food poisoning every year.

    Key facts about Chicken and Campylobacter from the Food Standards Agency are:

    • 72,000 confirmed cases per year, possibly reflecting over 500,000 cases as many are unreported
    • 100 deaths per year
    • £900 million cost to the UK economy
    • Around 60% of fresh chicken has been found to be contaminated with Campylobacter

    A study carried out for the Food Standards Agency on whether freezing chicken livers helped to reduce levels of Campylobacter showed that there was a decrease, after freezing but importantly it did not eliminate the bacteria. It was concluded that it would be beneficial in terms of reducing infection if manufacturers froze chicken livers.

    If we follow the advice reported in the Daily Mail and other newspapers to freeze chicken at home, (nothing posted yet on the Food Standards Agency or Public Health England) there is a good chance that this will reduce the levels of Campylobacter in our chicken, which could help reduce infection levels, but it will not banish the bug completely.

    The important thing then is to make sure that everyone still treats chicken as though it is contaminated – because it might be! This means that the following controls are essential:

    • Defrost it thoroughly, preferably at the bottom shelf of the fridge in a deep dish to catch the drip
    • Cook to 75°C in the centre of the thickest part of the chicken (not inside the cavity if it is whole). Use a disinfected (use anti bad spray or boiling water) thermometer to check
    • Sanitise any surfaces that may have been touched by the chicken or your dirty hands – use an anti-bacterial spray
    • Clean your hands – 20 seconds with soap!

     

  • E. coli outbreaks: Autumn 2014

    E. coli outbreaks

    There have been a number of E.coli outbreaks this autumn, and it appears the jury is still out about what is causing all of the cases, but it does appear that some cases are linked to unpasteurised milk.

    Untreated Milk and E. coli

    Pasteurisation of milk is important as it kills harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella which can all be found in raw milk as they are naturally found in the guts of cattle. It is still possible to purchase unpasteurised milk directly from the farm in England. The Food Standards Agency advice was reiterated earlier this month:

    Andrew Rhodes, Chief Operating Officer at the FSA, said: ‘Long standing FSA advice has been that vulnerable people – that’s older people, infants, children, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems – are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning and that is why these groups should not be consuming raw drinking milk because it has not been heat treated.’

    My advice would be for everyone to take care on food safety issues – for two main reasons: 1) food poisoning can affect anyone 2) you may not realise you are in a vulnerable group – women may be in the early stages of pregnancy without realising it, and many diseases go undetected. Just do a google search on diseases from untreated milk around the world, and that is enough to convince most people that it is not worth the risk for many reasons. Personally, I will have pasteurised milk with my cereal, thanks!

  • Campylobacter In the News Again

    Campylobacter is in the news again – what are the key facts?

    What is Campylobacter?Campylobacter has been found in a high percentage of raw poutlry

    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).Dirty cloths can spread bacteria
    • 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!Dishwashers at high temperatures will get utensils hygienically clean
    • 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.

    Finally

    • 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!

  • Saving Money on Food – Safely

    How to Save Money on Food without creating a Health Risk

    Buy LessSave Money but don't compromise your health

    I know it’s tempting to take advantage of “bog-offs” (buy one get one free) or other enticing offers, but sometimes you need to think about whether you can actually eat the food in time. Can you get through three packets of ham before the use-by date expires?

    Unless there is a really long shelf-life on the food, or you have a big hungry family, then think twice – there is nothing worse than packets of food going off in the fridge and making you feel guilty, and then there is the temptation to eat them when they are out of date. You could always share the offers with a friend.

    Dangers of out of date food

    Bacteria such as Listeria can be present on ready-to-eat foods and will grow slowly in the fridge – the longer they are in the fridge, the more they grow, and the warmer the fridge, the faster they grow. In the freezer they are suspended – they usually survive but don’t grow (until you defrost the food). So it’s best to follow the manufacturers’ use-by dates to ensure that your food is safe.

    This is particularly important if you, or anyone in your family is in a vulnerable group – very young, over 60, pregnant or otherwise ill or immune-compromised. This group is more likely to get food poisoning symptoms, and can be severely affected by it. For example, Listeria can kill, and cause miscarriage in pregnant women.

    If you have too much food….

    If you realise you have over-loaded your fridge and won’t get through the food, then you could freeze many items so long as they are still in date. For example, I have frozen milk, cream, ham (used it for pizza), grated cheese, olives (use for pasta sauce), pureed tomatoes, chopped up garlic and ginger (for curry), chicken, duck and meat. Pizzas can go in whole (or half ones if you only eat half at a time).

    Egg white freezes well, as does egg yolk. Many ready meals can be frozen as can sausages and burgers. I would write the date of freezing on the pack – in my household if we don’t tell everyone it has been frozen then it get’s thrown away whilst defrosting as people think it is out of date!

    Defrost

    Defrost according to instructions on the pack – some foods say on the label about freezing and defrosting. Otherwise, defrost in the fridge on the lowest shelf on a tray or dish to catch any drip.

  • The freezer – your best friend or worst enemy?

    FreezerUsing Your Freezer

    For busy people, the freezer can be your best friend, but you need to follow a few simple rules to make sure it doesn’t become your worst enemy. Freezing keeps food (and bacteria) in suspended animation – so until it is defrosted, bacteria cannot grow.

    Top tips for defrosting and freezing

    Defrosting time depends very much on the size of the food and the temperature of the fridge

    Generally if you have a very cold fridge for example below 5 °C it can take up to 10 hours per kilogram to defrost a large joint. So, for example, if you have a 3 kg joint and then it could take 30 hours – around a day and a half to defrost. A Christmas turkey may be even bigger and take longer. This means it is really important to plan ahead if you’re planning to cook a large joint of meat or large turkey that’s between the freezer.

    Why defrost foods in the fridge if it takes so long?

    The fridge is the best place for defrosting as it keeps the food below the temperature that bacteria can grow, so it keeps the food safe. If you defrost in a warm kitchen, then the bacteria on the outside of the food can grow whilst the food is still defrosting in the middle

    The reason it’s so important to defrost foods thoroughly is because if you don’t then the inside of the food will still be frozen and when you put in the in the oven to cook the outside will appear cooked but the inside could still be raw and have a dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli present which could cause you and your family or guests to be very ill.

    Use a deep dish to defrost foods to catch any dripping it comes off because this trip could contain harmful bacteria always defrosted the bottom of the fridge away from ready to eat foods so you reduce any risk of cross contamination

    dishwasher thermometerFor small frozen items you can use the microwave defrost button, but you must cook the food immediately after microwave defrosting because it will have warmed up during defrosting and that means that it gives bacteria in the food a chance to start to multiply.

    Check that you have cooked thoroughly enough using a probe thermometer – it’s the only way to be sure. This will tell you whether the food is reached the critical temperature of 75 °C – colour or texture alone may not give you the correct indication – I find I am more likely to over-cook food if I don’t use a probe!

     

    What can you freeze?

    Virtually anything!

    I freeze:

    • Left over dinners
    • Separated egg whites or egg yolks
    • Bananas (for milk shakes and smoothies)
    • Chopped ham for pizza toppings
    • Olives for putanesca sauce
    • Home made tomato sauce for pasta
    • Meat and chicken

    Just remember – it’s simple – defrost carefully in the fridge, and cook thoroughly to 75 °C