With the 5p bag tax, bags for life are becoming a norm, and it’s great news for the environment. But one problem is that we could be putting our food into dirty bags, not just visibly dirty, but bags with dangerous bacteria on the inside.Read more
Campylobacter is still at large – so be prepared in BBQ season
Summer is here (well in theory) and the BBQs come out, but in the light of the recent findings that Campylobacter is still likely to be present in over 70% of raw chicken, what can we do to ensure that we are not serving up a dose of food poisoning to friends and family?
First of all, let’s think about how you can infect someone – bear in mind that Campylobacter is infectious in very small doses:
If you contaminate your hands with raw chicken, and then make up a wrap with cooked chicken, you could be passing the organism on in the ready-to-eat food. Your friends may not realise it was you that did it – they may not be ill for a couple of days, and it is possible that one slip up only affected one person, so no-one would associate the BBQ with their illness.
By putting raw chicken on a platter, cooking it and then putting it back on the original platter – you have caused classic cross-contamination – everyone could be ill!
When chicken isn’t cooked all the way through – for example cooked too much on the outside and underdone in the middle – this is a recipe for disaster as bacteria could survive!
Using the same utensils to put the raw chicken on the BBQ as to taking the cooked chicken off could give you more cross-contamination.
Food poisoning often starts with a bad bout of diarrhoea and or vomiting. It is understandable that you might think that the cause of your illness is the first thing you throw up, but in fact that can be far from the truth! In a recent survey carried out by Biomaster, 99% of respondents did not know that it takes a while for Campylobacter to make you ill after infection.Read more
Christmas is coming and the turkey questions keep rolling in! So here are some simple answers and top tips to keep you safe this Christmas. Watch this space – more updates to come!
Q How do I store the raw turkey?
In the fridge – lowest shelf, protected from any foods that are ready to eat.
Q Should I wash raw turkey?
Absolutely not – never!!! If you wash turkey you risk spreading germs all over your kitchen sink, draining board and anything else in the vicinity. Try not to handle it too much either – anywhere it’s been needs disinfecting – use an antibacterial spray such as Dettol. And don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly using soap and dry with a paper towel. I wash my hands twice after handling raw meat and poultry just to be on the safe side.
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
Today, as is so often the case, I looked at a customer making an allegation of food poisoning, and they were convinced that the last thing they ate caused them to be ill. But this is often not the case at all.
For example, Campylobacter, the bacteria that causes more gastro-intestinal illness than any other in this country, has an incubation period of 1-5 days, and even as long as 11 days. This means that something you ate many days ago brews up in your intestines until it reaches a critical mass, and then you get the symptoms of diarrhoea – and wow what a nasty bug this one is.
In the past, patients have had their appendix removed because the intense pain convinced doctors that they had appendicitis. The diarrhoea can go on for days.
When we are trying to find out the cause of illness, if we know what the organism was that made someone ill, then we can make better investigations into the cause of illness as we can trace back to what was eaten within the incubation period.
The other red herring is norovirus, which may not have been carried by food at all. This virus is infectious in very low doses, and can be picked up from hand-contact sites, where these have been infected by someone who may be recovering from the illness. Protecting yourself from norovirus is simple – make sure you wash your hands before eating. Imagine if you eat a bag of crisps when travelling on the tube – think where your fingers may have touched just before, and think again about whether you may want to wash your hands – especially when you lick your fingers (UGH).
Whilst the Food Standards Agency battles with the problem of contaminated chickens in the food chain and has to put out a revised strategy for reducing its incidence, we consumers need to be vigilant to do our best not put ourselves at risk from Campylobacter, in the knowledge that the latest figures from the FSA show that 65% of chickens are contaminated with this nasty bug. The good news, is that Campylobacter is preventable, and simple good hygiene can prevent it!
Seven Top Tips to Help Prevent Campylobacter in the Home
C ross contamination can spread campylobacter found in 65% of chickens
A fter preparing raw chicken disinfect surfaces and utensils (dishwasher or antibacterial cleanser)
M ake sure you NEVER wash raw chicken
P lace raw chicken at the bottom of the fridge.
Y our dirty cloths can transfer bacteria. Use disposables or wash at + 60C
Lather up and wash hands after handling raw chicken
O nly serve chicken if it has reached 75oC.
Campylobacter can cause very painful abdominal cramps and diarrhoea which can continue for some weeks. It is also associated with other side effects which may continue for many months, even years. For example, reactive arthritis or Guillain-Barré syndrome – which affects the body’s immune system and attacks the nervous system.
Campylobacter(Camp-I-Low-Back-Ter) are particularly nasty bacteria that can cause diarrhoea and acute abdominal pain, as well as potential long term side effects from reactive arthritis to Guillain Barré syndrome, where sufferers experience varying degrees of paralysis.
Campylobacter can also kill – there are up to 85 deaths per year from this organism, and in 2012 there were 72,000 reported cases in the UK. Of course many cases are not reported as people don’t always go to the doctor, and a recent report suggested that for every case of food poisoning that the GP sees, there are 147 extra cases in the community.
Campylobacter doesn’t grow in food; it grows in the body and is highly infectious. Only 500 bacteria are needed to cause symptoms – this was found out by a scientist swallowing 500 organisms that he had put into a glass of milk!
The most common carriers of Campylobacter are chickens. In a survey carried out by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), 65% of retail chickens were found to be carrying the organism and the FSA estimates that 60-80% of cases can be blamed on chicken. Recent outbreaks have been traced back to chicken liver parfait served in restaurants.
Where is Campylobacter contracted?
With an incubation period of 3-5 days it is difficult to identify what has caused one off cases, but we certainly can’t always blame our local restaurant. In fact we should more often blame ourselves!
Andrew Wadge, Chief Scientist at the FSA points out that there is a bit of a taboo in thinking that we might be at fault. “People don’t like to admit that the germs might have come from their own home but it’s a common myth to think that food poisoning only comes from a dodgy takeaway.”
Keeping Campylobacter under control
The main causes of illness are cross-contamination, where the bugs are moved from one place to another, and not cooking to the right temperature. Both of these are very easy to avoid with some simple hygiene in the kitchen.
But with some sources telling you to use anti-bacterial products and others telling you that hot soapy water will do the trick, who are you to believe?
Well, common sense will tell you that if water is hot enough to kill bacteria, it’s too hot for you to put your hand into, so hot soapy water just won’t do the trick. Then it won’t just be on your surfaces, but on your cloth, in your sink and all over the washing up that you think is actually clean!
So make sure that you always use an anti-bacterial spray on any surface that might have come into contact with raw poultry and meat. Plastic chopping boards and knives can be put into the dishwasher as long as the cycle reaches temperatures of 65° C for at least 30 minutes. You don’t need to go crazy with products, just spray the surface, leave for a few moments then wipe with a paper towel or rinse under the tap. I wouldn’t put my family at risk by failing to do this – and I can assure you, I don’t get through bucket loads of product!
The other very simple control is cooking. Advice such as “cook till piping hot”, “till the juices run clear”, “till there is no pinkness” is all over the place. However, it is well known that colour is not an indication of “doneness”. The only real test is actual temperature in the thickest part of the meat. That’s what we tell caterers to do – so why not advise people cooking in the home to do the same? The simple message, is don’t guess, cook to 75 °C in the centre and you will have killed Campylobacter. A simple probe thermometer can help with this for as little as £15. Obviously the probe needs disinfecting – boiling water or anti-bacterial spray can be used.
Finally it is essential that after handling raw chicken everyone washes their hands thoroughly using soap, warm water and dries their hands on a paper towel, preferably.
Some top tips to prevent Campylobacter laying you up for 2 weeks:
• Cook chicken to 75 °C in the core use a probe thermometer
• Minimise the mess – get all the utensils and ingredients out before you start to prepare chicken – it reduces the spread from your hands to handles etc
• Clean up immediately after handling chicken and blitz any areas that may have Campylobacter on them using a good quality anti-bacterial spray – leave on for a few minutes and wipe away with paper towels. Anti-bacterial wipes are good as well. Spray the sink and taps to make sure they are not contaminated.
• Wash your hands thoroughly using soap and warm water, get in between the fingers and thumbs and soap up round your nails. Dry with a paper towel
• If you enjoy a glass of wine when you are cooking, don’t get Campylobacter all over the rim – wait till you have finished preparing the raw chicken and have cleaned up!
• If you use a cloth, then you need to wash it at over 60 °C or boil it up in a saucepan just like my granny used to do – it’s fun to see the colour of the water!
Annie Othen today asked me if we are too clean on her show today (BBC Coventry and Warwickshire Radio). My answer is not at all! Whilst no-one can or should achieve a sterile home environment, it is nevertheless important to focus on killing the dangerous bacteria in the kitchen.
There has been much discussion about using hot soapy water and “elbow grease” recently, rather than using disinfectants or anti-bacterial sprays. But whilst hot water over 75 °C would kill bacteria almost instantly, householders would burn their hands with water at that temperature. In fact, even at 60 °C, within 5 seconds you would suffer third degree burns – and at that temperature you would need to apply the heat for over 30 minutes (of course it would cool in 30 minutes so would not work anyway). When using heat to kill bacteria, it’s all about time and temperature. The higher the temperature the quicker the kill.
So one effective way to clean dishcloths is do what my grandma used to do – boil them up in a saucepan with a bit of washing powder which kills the bugs and cleans the cloths.
Now certainly the action of scrubbing and rubbing will dislodge some bacteria, which is why it is thought that hand drying is a good part of the hand washing process, but what if you can’t do much scrubbing, because of infirmity, or what if you don’t have time? Furthermore, some bacteria are so infectious that even one organism could cause illness (for example E. coli transferred from a surface to a sandwich). I would rather not take the risk, thanks!
A quick squirt of an antibacterial spray or using an antibacterial wipe is going to give you instant peace of mind to make sure you have rid surfaces of Campylobacter or E. coli after preparing raw meat, poultry or vegetables.
I am definitely not advocating using bucket loads of bleach – just targeted cleaning in the areas that really matter. Most of us are time pressed, so we don’t want to waste precious home-time doing too much cleaning!
The Murky Days of the 19th Century
Don’t let’s go back to the days of the nineteenth century where children died so young because of infectious diseases and the rest of the population had a reduced life-span. We have the public health movement to thank for improved mortality which was particularly striking in the early part of the last century. Diseases such as cholera and typhoid are a thing of the past in the UK through sanitation measures such as chlorination of water, good sewerage systems and food safety measures. However, new strains of disease such as E. coli O157 and new bacteria such as Campylobacter have replaced them, with thousands of people every year infected, and many hospitalisations and deaths. These diseases are all preventable – so don’t be afraid of a bit of cleaning in the right place at the right time.
The Allergy Theory
People are often saying to me that because we are so clean, there are more people with allergies, but this “hygiene hypothesis” has many flaws. According to the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene “this notion is very much misplaced, and, if acted upon without reference to the risks of infection, would be dangerous for our health.” There are other factors that have been attributed to allergies, including pollution, genetic disposition, lack of physical activity, obesity, socio-economic factors, stress, and even climate change. So please, don’t give me the excuse that we shouldn’t clean because it may be bad for us!
From my personal experience, with all the home hygiene studies I have been carrying out, there is little evidence that homes are clean anyway – from disgusting dishcloths to terrible tea towels and shocking shower trays, I have found no end of potentially dangerous bacteria in homes around the UK and indeed round the world. So, in summary, target the disinfection where it is needed, if nothing else, and don’t forget that hand-washing is still one of the simplest, most important thing you can do for yourself, your family and others in the community.
Well summer is here isn’t it? Are we sturdy Brits going to pretend it’s nice and warm this weekend and get out in the garden? But before you do, have a quick think about what may be lurking on the BBQ and patio, chairs and tables and spend a few minutes making sure that it is safe for your family and friends. We are not talking about getting a sterile garden of course – that would be ridiculous, but here are some pointers of where a bit of cleaning at the right time in the right place may just help prevent illness if you are intending to eat outside.