Giants clash over chicken: Dame Sally vs the FSA

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Threatening Heel
Right or wrong – there’s only one way with hygiene

Looks like the FSA is washing its hands of the food poisoning campylobacter issue.

They want to duck the cost of monitoring birds for this naturally-occurring bacteria and shove it onto industry.

Oh woe is us, woe is us, we’re all going to get sick.

Misplaced objectives

Not if proper leak-proof packaging is in use across the industry we won’t. Most birds have this bacteria in their gut – just like we have over 100 trillion bacteria in our own gut. They’re supposed to be there. Take one away and the balance between all of them is disturbed.

In birds’ metabolism, campylobacter is passive and benign. It does them no harm, and occurs in probably two-thirds of all birds farmed in the UK . Far from a scandal – and not “contaminated” as media hysteria would have us believe, these birds are colonised with it naturally. Because its presence may be necessary, like a catalyst for OTHER positive bacteria to do THEIR job.

For instance, campylobacter is closely related to helicobacter pylori – itself once even called “campylobacter”. Research shows helicobacter pylori to be a key cause of ulcers and stomach cancer. But eliminating helicobacter pylori is also linked to an increase in oesophageal disease and asthma.

Swings and roundabouts. Take away one element and you trigger another. Even one that looks hazardous – at first appraisal. So surprise, surprise, as long as it’s not activated, helicobacter pylori in the body may actually be necessary.

And anyway, if two-thirds of all birds in the UK have this dreadful campylobacter, why aren’t two-thirds of us ALWAYS moaning and groaning with stomach cramps and earth-shattering diarrhoea?

Reality check

Because – and maybe the FSA don’t know this – nobody eats raw chicken. And cooking chicken completely eliminates campylobacter. The whole KFC fast-food franchise succeeds because of it. So do a lot of Sunday lunches, kids lunch boxes – and let’s face it – household budgets. Chicken is probably our No 1 food staple.

Uh huh. But the FSA actually DO have a point about chicken being a health hazard – because campylobacter frequently crops up on the outside of packaging in the supermarket. It’s even known to leak out, dripping onto shelves below and contaminating other products.

The same thing happens at home too – cross-contamination in the refrigerator. Get campylobacter on your lettuce and your stomach will soon know all about it.

Yet for all this, the FSA never says anything about packaging. On the one hand they clobber the producers to reduce a naturally-occurring bacteria. And on the other they hector the rest of us not to wash chicken. Back-splatter will contaminate everyone’s kitchen – and foops, everyone will be writhing and groaning.

Yeah, right. But have you looked at chicken packaging in your supermarket lately?

The El Cheapo stuff is just wrapped in cling-film – yer pays yer money…

Pick it up and it’s dripping all over the place, particularly the whole birds. The premium stuff – and most of the cut choices – goujons, drumsticks and the rest – are packed on foam or polyethylene trays, then vacuum sealed. So leak-proof packaging does exist – why doesn’t the FSA enforce it?

And to prove that the industry is on side, in some supermarkets, there is even a prominent sticker DO NOT WASH – the FSA war-cry for at least the last two years.

Collision course

Which is exactly where our crusading Food Standards Agency runs head-on into the stern and often dire warnings of Dr Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer.

Yeah, do not wash chicken, you can see the logic.

But consider the whole principle of DO NOT WASH – and you can feel the hackles rise.

Because Dame Sally’s rapidly snowballing headache at the moment is antibiotic resistance – the fact that a whole slew of killer superbugs are becoming immune to whatever miracle drugs we might throw at them. The Drugs Don’t Work is even the title of her book on the subject.

Without effective antibiotics to protect us, modern medicine comes to a shuddering, grinding stall. Slightly more of a crisis than food poisoning from chicken.

Which is why Dame Sally is tirelessly at it, warning us of the over-dependence on antibiotics – and urging us all to do the one thing that can minimise our exposure potential to deadly superbugs – WASH EVERYTHING.

The ew factor

With good reason. Dame Sally knows that day-to-day, our own sloppy hygiene is probably the biggest hazard we face. The facts are horrendous, yet we all smile sheepishly and shrug them away. A&E will sort it. A quick shot of amoxicillin or whatever and we’ll be right.

As if.

Kinda critical handling chicken.

And there is no way to avoid handling it – like getting it out of the packaging for a start. Then chopping it, trimming it, slicing it, whatever the recipe calls for.

Don’t wash the chicken, right. But if you want to avoid the tummy cramps, better scrub that chopping board, counter top, serving platter and trimming knife within an inch of its life – and your hands of course.

Which you should do anyway. Because it’s not just possible campylobacter you have to scrub off, it’s the likelihood of all the other bad guys as well – escherichia coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or just plain norovirus – take your pick.

Rediscover hygiene

So – wash or not wash?

Frankly, our money’s on Dame Sally.

If we’re going to get through this, we’ve got to be germ-free and clean. No way we can achieve that without soap and water. But there isn’t any available in most supermarkets.

OK then, carry antiseptic wipes – and hope the FSA gets on the packaging case soon.

Just don’t hold your breath.

Picture Copyright: konstantynov / 123RF Stock Photo

Originally posted 2016-02-02 14:49:56.