Food poisoning by Campylobacter
Food poisoning from known causes affects around 500,00 people a year. The total number of people affected is not actually known as mild symptoms might be tolerated and medical advice not sought. 280,000 cases of food poisoning are caused by a pathogen called Campylobacter. This is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK.
Four out of every five cases of food poisoning comes from contaminated chickens. 65% of raw chickens carry campylobacter bacteria which is found in their guts. The two main ways of getting food poisoning are by cross contamination and by eating undercooked chicken. Cross -contamination occurs when harmful bacteria spreads from one surface to another. This can be caused by washing a chicken: the water that splashes off the chicken as droplets can travel as far as 50cm in any direction. It only needs a few campylobacter bacteria to cause food poisoning. A study by the food standards agency found that 44% of people wash their chickens and so are at risk of cross-contamination.
The symptoms of campylobacter food poisoning are severe diarrhoea, abdominal pain and sometimes vomiting. It may take up to 10 days to feel better and may lead on to other complications such as irritable bowl syndrome and reactive arthritis.
With chicken remember the following points:
- Store it correctly, at the bottom of the fridge so that if there are leakages this does not contaminate other food.
- Cook it thoroughly; the juices must run clear, it must be piping hot and have no pink flesh.
- Ensure good kitchen hygiene; ensure that all utensils used to prepare raw chicken are washed thoroughly with hot water and washing up liquid. Remember to wash hands thoroughly with hot soapy water.
To help reduce food poisoning from chickens supermarkets are designing packaging to make it easier to avoid campylobacter such as selling chicken in Roast in Bag packaging and leak proof packaging.
The Foods Standards Agency in the UK has identified the '4 Cs' to help prevent food poisoning, including food poisoning caused by campylobacter:
- Keep work surfaces and utensils clean.
- Wash and dry your hands regularly but especially after going to the toilet, before preparing food, after handling raw food and before touching 'ready-to-eat' food.
- 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.
- Change dishcloths and tea towels regularly.
To help avoid campylobacter infection, you should also wash your hands after touching pets or animals, after visiting farms and after gardening.
- Make sure that you cook food thoroughly, especially meat. This will kill germs (bacteria). Food should be cooked right through and be piping hot in the middle.
- If you are reheating food, it needs to be cooked right through and be piping hot in the middle.
- Don't reheat food more than once.
You should also make sure that you only drink pasteurised or boiled milk and avoid drinking water thought to be unsafe (including avoiding drinks containing ice cubes that may have been made from unsafe water).
- 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.
- Your fridge needs to be kept between 0°C and 5°C. Also, don't leave the door open unnecessarily.
- Cool leftover food quickly and then refrigerate. Taking it out of the cooking pot and putting it into a shallow container can speed up the cooling process.
This is when bacteria pass from foods (commonly raw foods) to other 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 after touching raw foods.
- Separate raw and cooked or 'ready-to-eat' foods.
- Keep raw meat 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.
- Make sure that knives and utensils are cleaned after preparing raw foods.