Share the love at Christmas but not the germs

Christmas is a time that friends and family get together. The work parties, the running around delivering presents to the relatives, the last-minute shopping and Christmas day itself, it’s stressful! We are often so busy and the last thing we need is to come down with a cold, flu or stomach bug to disrupt our carefully crafted plans or family visits.

Unfortunately bugs can spread like wild-fire and it is much more likely that bacteria and viruses take a strong hold in these winter months, particularly in the very young and old. We tend to close all the windows and whack on the heating, creating a lovely cosy and stuffy environment that bugs will thrive in. Having the heating on dries out our mucosa (the cells that line the nose and throat) making it much easier for bugs to infect us.

So how can you minimise the risk of picking up the unpleasant and unwanted bug?

1. Try to make time to chill out, ensure you get a decent amount of fresh air, do some exercise and get enough sleep (a minimum of 6hrs). Burning the candle at both ends, doing less exercise and being stressed can all have a negative effect on our immune system. Prolonged periods of stress raise the level of a chemical in the body called cortisol. This stress hormone reduces the activity of the defensive cells that carry out the immune response against disease-causing bugs, making it more likely that we fall ill and take longer to recover.

2. Ensure you get some wholesome food in-between the party food! Drinking in excess and overindulging can mean we are not getting the right nutrients our body needs to support our immune system. Simply not eating enough fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains mean we can become lacking in key vitamins (A, C, E) and minerals (Iron, Selenium and Zinc) that our immune system needs to do its job well.

Contamination that you can see!

3. If you have the sniffles or a cough, try to keep it to yourself! Being in close proximity and in contact with others makes it very likely you will spread your germs. As the saying goes; coughs and sneezes spread diseases and it is important to know that bacteria and viruses linger in our environment for longer than you might think. Bugs can easily survive on hard surfaces and our skin, typically between 20mins to 24hrs – Take at look at this NHS page: How long do bacteria and viruses live outside the body? for some interesting stats. When we sneeze, the microscopic droplets that we project into the air can remain suspended for hours, making all too easy for your unsuspecting friends and family to breathe them in. Nice.

4. So don’t share wine glasses, think twice before sharing cutlery if you are tasting each other’s food and always be wary of buffet food where there is a free for all, for everyone to dig in with their hands. You might want to know that Norovirus (the winter vomiting bug) is highly contagious and is THE most common cause of infectious intestinal disease, resulting in diarrhoea and vomiting in the UK.

5. Now Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without mistletoe and as much as kissing can be very healthy, if the person you are kissing is like a petri dish then hold back a little! To put this into perspective, a quick light kiss may transfer a meagre 1,000 bacteria, whilst a more passionate one could transfer up to 80million! You can always go for an air kiss or blow a kiss to avoid a sloppy wet one! Or perhaps we should do as the Eskimos do and try a nose kiss?! Personal hygiene is also hugely important so ensure you wash your hands regularly and dispose of your tissues as soon as possible after you use them.

6. Finally, preparing and eating a turkey dinner can also be one of the most hazardous things you do over the Christmas period in terms of spreading of germs. We prepare more food for more guests than we usually do, we cook things we don’t often cook and then have to store mountains of leftovers, all of which have safety implications.

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  • Keep your uncooked turkey well away from all other ready-to-eat foods in your fridge to prevent contamination.
  • If you are having a frozen turkey you MUST ensure it is thoroughly defrosted before cooking. Allow at least 2 days, depending on size, and defrost it in your fridge. NEVER try to speed up thawing by putting your turkey in the bath or by a radiator as you will simply encourage bacterial growth. If your turkey is not fully thawed, it may not cook evenly so parts of the bird may not reach sufficient temperature to kill bugs like salmonella and campylobacter. These can cause a nasty bout of food poisoning.
  • Never wash your turkey! Campylobacter is THE most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. Washing poultry before cooking it does not remove the bacteria (only cooking will kill them); it simply spreads the bacteria over your sink, kitchen surfaces and any onto items around your sink through splashing of water.
  • If having stuffing with your turkey, it is advisable to cook it separately rather than in the cavity of the bird. Again, your turkey may cook unevenly if it is filled with stuffing and you may underestimate the time required to cook your turkey thoroughly.
  • Many of us are eating the leftover turkey for days but we are actually advised to consume it within 48hrs!


NHS choices have a really useful page on preparing and cooking your turkey safely here.

So with a little bit of extra thought and care we can minimise the spread of germs and really enjoy this special holiday season.

Spread the word not the germs

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 ita 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%)


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.

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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


  • 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.)

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  • 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.

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  • 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!