• Grandma boiled her cloths

    Grandma’s kitchen cloths: the good old ways?

    In the 1960s I remember my Grandma boiling her kitchen cloths with washing powder on the stove in an ancient pan designated for this purpose. She used a pair of wooden tongs to get them from the pan to the sink where they were rinsed and then put on the drying rack. We could learn a lot from her.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • Are we too clean?

    Are we too clean?

    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 washinboil dirty cloths to get rid of bacteriag 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!

    Not too clean! Target your cleaningto banish the bacteria when it matters

    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.

  • Rare Burgers Again

    Dr Lisa Ackerley considers whether undercooked burgers should be on the menu

    Rare Steaks

    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.

    Rare Burgers

    rare burger on wood platterThe 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?

  • BBQ Hygiene in the garden

    Is your Garden Hygienic?

    Is your Garden Hygienic for Summer?

    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.

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  • Is it ok to eat a rare burger?

    Dr Lisa explains why it is NOT ok to eat a rare burger, or steak tartare.

    Rare burger - E. coli riskI wouldn’t recommend eating a rare burger, and would avoid steak tartare like the plague! It’s a sad fact, but we have to assume that raw meat is contaminated on the outside surface, no matter how good quality it is, whether it is free range, organic or whatever breed it is from.

    The “bad” bacteria

    The sorts of bacteria that can get onto meat are E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Clostridium perfringens. These will be found mainly on the outside surfaces of meat. But let’s not get too technical!

    Are Steaks ok Rare?

    These potentially dangerous bacteria can be killed by thorough cooking, which means a temperature of  75°C for a few seconds will do the trick. so if you have a steak, and you sear the outside, you kill the bacteria and it’s usually ok to eat it rare inside (although see my blog on mechanically tenderised / spiked meat).

    Can you eat a Rare Burger?75 degrees C kills E coli

    BUT if you take your lump of beef and grind or mince it up to make a burger, you are changing everything! The outside of the meat gets lumped up with the inside, and hey presto, if you don’t cook it ALL the way through (that is to 75 °C in the middle) then you could be getting a dose of E. coli, and you really don’t want that! So I would say never eat a rare burger.

    Steak Tartaresteak tartare - if the E. coli doesn't get you, the Salmonella might

    The same applies to steak tartare because that is minced up raw steak, with the added insult of a raw egg on top (raw eggs pose a possible Salmonella risk).