This week the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are attempting to raise awareness about raw chicken and the risk of infection. Campylobacter is a bacteria that can be found on and easily spread from raw chicken onto our hands and other surfaces. Ultimately it can cause serious illness but many people have never heard of it…………
With help from the FSA website, this is what you need to know about Campylobacter.
Why should we be worried about Campylobacter?
The FSA find that levels of awareness of Campylobacter are well below that of other forms of food poisoning.
“More than 90% of the public have heard of Salmonella and E.coli, whereas only 28% of people know about Campylobacter. Furthermore, of the people who have heard of Campylobacter, only 31% of them know that poultry is the main source of the bacteria”.
Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK so it is vitally important the general public understand where this bacteria comes from, how it can make us ill and what we can do to reduce the likelihood of contamination and illness.
The FSA report that 44% of people always wash chicken before cooking it – a practice that can spread campylobacter bacteria onto hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment through the splashing of water droplets. So more than likely, even if you don’t wash raw chicken yourself, you probably know someone that does!
People wash chicken for the following reasons:
- removal of dirt (36%)
- getting rid of germs (36%)
- they had always done it (33%)
THESE STATS DO NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD TOO.
The FSA also carried out a survey of campylobacter in chicken on sale in the UK (between 2007 and 2008) and found that campylobacter was present in 65% of the fresh chicken samples tested. It is therefore pretty likely the poultry we buy will have some campylobacter on it. This is definitely a case where the risks outweigh the benefits of washing chicken (not that I can really think of any real benefits). Surely we don’t need any more evidence than this to encourage us to STOP washing chicken. Be food safe – don’t wash your chicken, just cook it thoroughly.
You might feel reassured to know that the FSA are also tackling the poultry production side of things. They are working with farmers and producers to reduce rates of campylobacter in flocks of broiler chickens and ensuring that slaughterhouses and processors are taking steps to minimise the levels of contamination in birds.
What can happen if infected with Campylobacter?
It only takes a few Campylobacter (in bacterial terms) to make a person sick – around 500. Just 1 drop of juice from raw chicken meat can have enough Campylobacter in it to infect a person! One way to become infected is to cut poultry meat on a cutting board, and then use the unwashed cutting board or utensil to prepare vegetables or other raw or lightly cooked foods. Another way is through washing raw poultry.
The key message this year however is that we do not need to wash raw chicken. It is entirely unnecessary as only cooking will remove and destroy the bacteria anyway. Washing will NOT do this- washing only splashes the chicken juice around onto the surrounding surfaces, utensils, cleaning cloths and brushes and all you ‘clean’ washing up on the draining board. In fact bacteria can be splashed up to 3ft away from the sink! Left to breed in a nice warm and moist environment in the kitchen, these bacteria thrive and multiply very quickly. It only takes one person to pick up that contaminated coffee cup from the kitchen side and make a drink and hey presto, bacterial invasion!
You may have seen the BBC Food Inspectors Programme last month, an episode of which illustrated how easily and how far bacteria can travel when chicken is watched. Take a look of this clip if you missed it:
The other issue is washing any of the packaging your poultry came in. If like me, you are pretty diligent with your recycling, you pop your plastics into the recycling bag where they wait for the weekly collection. So particularly in this warmer weather, you would rather not leave it there all week reeking to high heaven with the risk any juices drip into your bag, you give it a quick rinse before hand. DO NOT DO THIS. Rather than risk your health, risk the smelly recycling bag and just double bag it up to separately to avoid any drips or leaks instead.
Illness is characterised by stomach ache, a high temperature, severe and sometimes bloody diarrhoea and vomiting. It is the diarrhoea that makes it more likely you will transmit the infection to someone else – you need to be scrupulously clean if you are unwell! It can be extremely unpleasant with symptoms usually appearing 2-5 days after infection that last about a week. Sometimes infected people show no symptoms at all which can make it more likely you spread the disease as you are completely unaware you have it!
The more vulnerable are at the greatest risk of infection – the under 5’s and older people as well as pregnant mums or people with other illnesses need to take extra care. In persons with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection.
What can you do to prevent food poisoning from Campylobacter?
Remember the 4 C’s
- DO NOT WASH RAW CHICKEN / POULTRY PRIOR TO COOKING
- DO NOT WASH ANY PACKAGING THAT CONTAINED POULTRY BEFORE RECYCLING
- Keep work surfaces and utensils clean. Use an antibacterial surface spray and antibacterial washing up liquid.
- Wash and dry your hands regularly but especially after going to the toilet, before and after handling all food.
- Clean your fridge regularly and mop up any spillages at the time they happen.
- Replace your dishcloths and tea towels with clean ones regularly. It helps if you hang them to dry freely rather than leave them crumpled up staying damp for long periods – this also encourages bacterial growth.
- When cleaning kitchen surfaces, use kitchen roll with your cleaning product – you can just pop the paper in the bin then!
- Don’t prepare food for others if you have diarrhoea or vomiting.
- Cover sores or cuts on hands with a waterproof plaster before you touch food.
- Pets (including cats and dogs) and other animals infected with campylobacter can also pass on the bacteria to you. To help avoid campylobacter infection, you should also wash your hands after touching pets or animals,cleaning them out, after visiting farms and after gardening.(Note: in animals, campylobacter rarely causes any symptoms for the animals themselves.)
- Make sure that you cook poultry thoroughly. This will kill the bacteria. Food should be cooked right through and be steaming hot in the middle.
- If you are reheating food, it needs to be cooked right through and be steaming hot in the middle.
- Don’t reheat food more than once. This just allows bacteria to recolonise and grow again. When reheating food, make sure it is heated until it reaches a temperature of 70°C for two minutes.
- Food that needs to be chilled or refrigerated, should be. If food is left out of the fridge, bacteria may multiply to levels that can cause food poisoning. Some bacteria can survive and multiply under cold conditions therefore it is still important to clean your fridge regularly!
- Your fridge needs to be kept at 5°C or less. Many fridges have been found to operate above this temperature so use a fridge thermometer to check your fridge temperature.
- Also don’t leave the fridge door open unnecessarily – it warms up the fridge which makes it easier for bacteria to grow and multiply.
- Don’t overload your fridge – allowing the air to circulate freely makes for more efficient and consistent temperature control.
- Cool leftover food quickly and then refrigerate as quickly as possible (within 90 minutes). Many modern fridges are more efficient these days so you do not have to wait until the food is completely cold before storing it. Taking it out of the cooking pot and putting it into a shallow container can speed up the cooling process though.
This is when bacteria pass from one food to another – especially raw to cooked / ready to eat foods. It can occur if foods touch directly, if one food drips on to another, if your hands, or utensils or equipment – such as knives or chopping boards – touch one food and then another.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after touching raw foods (please don’t just wipe them on your tea towel!)
- Separate raw and cooked or ‘ready-to-eat’ foods both in the fridge and on your work surface. If these foods are not heated or cooked, there will b e no opportunity to kill the bugs, you just consume them!
- Cover raw meat securely or keep it in a sealable container at the bottom of the fridge.
- Don’t use the same surface or chopping board for preparing raw and ready-to-eat foods. Use different coloured boards for raw and ready to eat foods to help you.
- Make sure that knives and utensils are cleaned thoroughly after preparing raw foods
- With more and more people re-using carrier bags the following tips will help prevent bacteria spreading to ready-to-eat food:
- keep raw meat and fish separate from ready-to-eat foods in separate bags
- if you use re-useable bags, keep one or two just for use with raw meat and fish and don’t use the same bags for ready-to-eat foods
- re-useable bags (and single-use carrier bags) should be disposed of if there are spillages of raw meat juices
So hopefully you can see this all makes sense and if asked to fill in the poll again you would say No, you don’t wash raw chicken! 🙂
The bottom line is the more aware you are about basic food safety, the more likely you will take more care and the less likely you will be ill!