Some people think that food poisoning is a mild illness which if anything might help them lose weight, but I recently watched this clip about a man who contracted Campylobacter food poisoning and developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, causing him to be paralysed. Having seen a friend also go through similar slow recovery from this syndrome, I know how awful, painful and frankly scary it is.
I am sharing this because simple precautions can help to prevent what can be a life-changing or even life-threatening event. If we think about the chain of infection, the places to break that chain become very obvious, and are not even expensive. In the clip, Dai talks about the importance of cooking chicken to prevent illness, but there is more to it than that. It may be that he did cook his chicken properly, so how else could he have become ill?
Campylobacter is infectious in very low numbers, so if it is around on foods, food packaging, or in the outdoor environment, contamination on your finger tips transferred to your mouth is enough to cause illness – no fancy incubation of bacteria, production of toxins, just around 500 microscopic bacteria on a finger tip would do the job. Apart from the fact that it may not actually be the food they ate that caused illness, the other thing that foxes people is the fact that the symptoms take a few days to appear, so tracking back to find out what the “mistake” was is tricky.
In the diagram you can see how complex the spread of infection can be in the kitchen, but of course it could be outdoors or when playing with infected pets when the infection gets into your body – in these circumstances via your hands to food or directly if you bite your nails, suck your thumb etc. Despite huge progress on reducing Campylobacter in chicken, it is still prevalent, and as you can’t see it, you need to assume that you need to take measures to prevent illness when handing chicken, so I am going to focus on this.
Top tips to prevent Campylobacter food poisoining
- When shopping for raw meats and poultry, keep these items away from ready-to-eat foods in your trolley and bag them separately. Even better, if you have an anti-bacterial bag for life, use that.
- Wash your hands when you arrive home, after packing these foods safely in the fridge away from ready-to-eat foods (I have a fridge box or drawer just for raw meats).
- When preparing chicken, get ready first! Get all your utensils and ingredients out so you don’t have to touch door handles with contaminated hands.
- Don’t wash your chicken – that sprays bacteria all over the place, and it is not necessary. Also for the same reason, don’t wash your chicken or meat packaging either.
- I use a fork to get my chicken out of the pack, and cut it up using a fork to hold it on the board. whole chickens get a two fork treatment to get them in the roasting dish. That way I am not coating my hands and nails with Campylobacter.
- Get it in the pan or oven, preferably without touching it and then so long as you cook it to over 75 °C in the centre (I use a thermometer) then Campylobacter should be killed.
- But the mess you’ve left behind – that is what could cause infection – anything that has been contaminated needs to be disinfected, from utensils and worktops to anything your dirty hands may have touched (phone, screens, handles, cooker knobs, kettle etc).
- The best way to disinfect utensils is in the dishwasher on a hot setting, but if you don’t have a dishwasher, wash in hot soapy water, then I would tip the wash water away (don’t use for anything else) and then very carefully pour a kettle of just boiled water over the items in the sink as a disinfecting rinse, (please don’t scald yourself) or use an anti-microbial spray.
- On surfaces, you need to clean and sanitise and hot soapy water won’t be hot enough (if you can bear the heat with your hands it is not hot enough). Use a squirt of anti-bacterial spray, leaving it on the surface for a couple of minutes (read any instructions and follow them), and then remove with paper towel. Even if you don’t like using chemicals, targeted hygiene is worth it for peace of mind, and we are not talking bucket loads anyway!
- Finally, I can’t write a blog without saying that hand washing is absolutely key – after handling raw meat and poultry, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and dry them (I would use a piece of paper towel). After doing the cleaning up, wash your hands again.
The cost of these precautions is small in terms of time and money – but think of what suffering it may save – which in itself has a huge personal and financial cost. It’s worth it. No-one wants Campylobacter food poisoning!
For more information on Campylobacter Food Poisoning
- I helped with an e-learning module from the RSPH for which CPD points can be awarded for those who need them.
- The RPSH gives free access to members for a webinar which I gave in September 2017.