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
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.
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.
Campylobacter is in the news again – what are the key facts?
What is Campylobacter?
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!
It’s being bandied about that that a recent survey from the Food Standards Agency identified that 27% of respondents believed in the five second rule – in other words, they thought that it was OK to eat food that has fallen on the floor if it had only been on the floor for a few seconds.Read more
Dr Lisa Ackerley considers whether undercooked burgers should be on the menu
It’s a plain fact – on a steak, contamination is likely to be on the outside surface. If you cook steak on the outside, then it should be safe even if it is rare in the middle. BUT!!!! Please read this carefully – despite the gung-ho approach taken by many foodies and chefs, undercooked burgers can be very dangerous, and that also goes for steak tartare.
The reason why minced meat is potentially dangerous is simply that minced up meat is of course more likely to include contamination all the way through, as what was the outside of a piece of meat is now mixed up with the inside. That’s why you should not serve an undercooked burgers or eat raw mince.
How cooked does a burger need to be?
Whilst it is pretty obvious that the burger in the photograph is virtually raw, what about the medium cooked ones, or those that are just pink? Are they safe? (Don’t get me started on the fact that this burger is served on a heavily scored wooden platter…)
A government committee, the ACMSF in the UK makes strong recommendations that burgers should be cooked to 70°C for 2 minutes or equivalent including 75°C for 18 seconds.
Quite often we are told to cook meats till they are “piping hot” in the middle and cooked till juices “run clear”.
But the trouble with this is it is subjective – what does that mean? Furthermore, a the Food Safety and Inspectorate Service (FSIS) in the USA says that colour is not a particularly good indicator of whether a burger is cooked safely! For a long time in the USA the advice has been for consumers to use a probe thermometer to check temperatures are high enough for safety.
Interestingly, the Americans found a burger paradox about using the colour of burgers to test for doneness and destruction of dangerous bacteria:
Some under cooked burgers may appear to lose all pink colour meaning they may look fully cooked before they are safe to eat
Some lean burgers may remain pink at temperatures well above the final recommended cooking temperature
So in a nutshell, if you go on looks, you could easily over or under-cook burgers!
The only way you can really be sure is to check the temperature. The good news is it’s quick and easy. For £15 you can buy a rapid response thermometer, but a dose of E. coli could be not only catastrophic for your health or even life, but at the very least, quite expensive!
My teenagers wouldn’t dream of cooking a sausage or burger without checking the temperature at the end – if it’s not 75 °C they won’t eat it, and if they can do it, so can anyone! Just make sure you disinfect the probe in some boiling water or with an anti-bacterial wipe though won’t you?