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
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.
Dr Lisa Ackerley mulls over hygiene in the laundry
I’ve found some people think that no matter how dirty the laundry is, when you shove it in the washing machine, it will come out pristine! But it’s not that easy. Not wanting to be too graphic, but if there are poo or sick deposits on your clothes, nappies, towels or bedding, then where do you think they go?Read more
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.
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.
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
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!
We all know how stressful cooking the Christmas lunch is, and you definitely don’t want to add the worry of a houseful of poorly tummies to the mix.
So rather than leave it to chance, stop worrying about whether your food is cooked enough and at the same time have a lovely tasty Christmas turkey that is cooked to temperature not to colour
With a simple probe thermometer you can take the reading in the thickest part of the meat. Easy. And cheap – a great little thermometer costs only £19.00 from Hygiene Audit Systems.
And then after handling the raw turkey, do wash your hands and use an antibacterial cleanser for disinfecting and cleaning the surfaces which may have been contaminated with dangerous bacteria.
Ten Top Tips for Turkey Day!
Make sure your fridge is cold enough – use a cheap fridge thermometer – available from supermarkets for around £5. Turn down the temperature you are aiming for 5 °C
Storing the raw turkey – use a tray to catch the drip, put at the bottom of the fridge away from anything that is ready-to-eat
After handling raw meat or poultry, wash your hands thoroughly using soap and warm water, dry with a paper towel rather than a tea towel.
Clean and disinfect anything that may have contamination from raw turkey – use the dishwasher on a high temperature, use an anti-bacterial cleanser and paper towel for surfaces, and don’t use the kitchen cloth or it will simply spread the bacteria all round the kitchen
Cook to 75 °C in the thickest part of the meat – use a clean probe thermometer
Turkey left overs? With clean hands, strip off the carcass and put on a clean plate, cover and put in the fridge above any raw meat or veg
Eat left overs within 3 days of cooking
Re-heat left overs quickly and to above 75 °C
No room in the fridge? Ditch some of the less important items such as chutneys, jams, sauces etc. and put them in a cold part of the house or in a box in the garage for a few days to make room for cooked meats and foods that could become dangerous if left out of refrigeration.
Lots of people using your wc? Keep the soap stocked up and make sure you change the hand towel daily at least to keep the shared bugs down. Use an antibacterial wipe on the flush handle and door handle if you want to be particularly hygienic!
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).
Dr 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!