Watch out! Your car could be killing you!

Woman slumped at wheel
There’s more dangers lurking IN our cars than we ever think

It can happen any time, or any place.  You’re just sitting in your car, parked up and going nowhere,  then foops – you’re on your way to being a goner.

No, no, not an accident. Though you never intended this to occur.

You’re just sitting there, engine off and handbrake on, maybe waiting at the school gate.

Unwanted passengers

But you’re not alone.

You can’t see them, but there’s upwards of 300 million germs sharing the car with you. And while you’re waiting, chatting on the phone and nibbling an indulgent pastry, you just happen to swallow a few hundred in.

You don’t feel it at the time of course. There’s no trace of anything wrong anyway. You keep the car spotless, down to the car wash every week. And those cheery folk do a full valet service – get rid of any rubbish, vacuum everything carefully. How in the world can you catch a bug?

All too easy, though you’d never know it.

Because a car is one of those places that easily LOOK clean when they’re anything but.

OK, so it’s you and the kids on the school run, taking the dog to the park, a couple of long hauls to visit the in-laws, where’s the danger in that?

Crumbs, germs, crikey!

Eating and drinking is what. And we all do it, without even realising.

Obviously not while driving. Though everyone is. A quick munch on the way home, a bottle of juice on a hot summer day – those little ones can be so demanding.

Which means crumbs on the seats and the odd spill – nothing that a quick wipe can’t fix, right?

Wrong.

However thoroughly you wipe, you never get everything. And stuff fragments as you try, breaking apart and falling down the sides. Into the “ungetatable” space between the seats and the floor sides.

And it’s usually food, right? So it breaks down and rots. Little bits here and there – nothing you’ll ever pick up unless you have a sensitive nose.

Bugs, bugs, bugs

Bacteria, right there – usually escherichia coli. Harmless to most of us, even though it lives naturally in our gut. Except there’s more than one strain of the thing, many of them pathogenic – medic-speak for saying they’re dangerous.

Like strain O157:H7, which can cause anaemia, kidney failure or even death. Plus, get ANY strain of e.coli in the wrong place – like in your bloodstream – and you’re in big trouble.

But e.coli is not the only one by a long shot. Salmonella and campylobacter are also regular passengers, both of which can cause illnesses, sometimes fatal. And both can survive for up a month inside your car, lurking on the steering wheel, gear stick, or dashboard.

And pretty well all cars regularly carry common bacteria, such as staphylococcus epidermidis, staphylococcus aureus and micrococcus luteus.

Mould and fungi too

Nor is bacteria the only hazard. Comes the wet weather with kids and dogs leaping in and out of the car dripping wet – next thing you’ve got mould. And mould leads to allergies, asthma and eczema.  Or in severe cases, like actress Brittany Murphy, fatal pneumonia.

OK, so basically germ-infested, right? And if you don’t believe us, check out this video here.

Recognise yourself?

So what can you do about it? Wiping down is not good enough. Nor is going berserk with the vacuum cleaner. You’ve got to get down and dirty in those teensy inaccessible gaps behind the seats and under the carpets.

And with way more firepower than bleach.

“Bacteria bomb”

Time to get yourself a “bacteria bomb” if you haven’t already. Not the ordinary can, but the half-sized 4oz job you can keep in your hand bag.

Capped 4 oz can
Self protection on the go – like MACE for germs

Yeah, OK, at around £12 a pop, it’s not cheap. But do you want to get rid of the germs or don’t you? And what does a whole valet service cost you? £50? £80? Right there in your bag is just the thing to fog up your entire car and take out the germs. Psst! 60 seconds and you’re done.

Just make sure you open all the windows and let the stuff out when it’s finished. It fills your car up like a smoke bomb but is way fresher, sort of lemony afterwards.

Oh, and that’s not the only reason to open up your car. Like with all these climate change non-winters we’ve been having, high temperatures bake your car full of breathable toxins too. Like benzene from the plastic of the dash and interior trim. Check out this video here.

Every week, like the car wash

Plus remember, if you want to stay safe and germ-free, you’ve got to keep at it too. Just like cleaning your teeth only lasts until your next meal, so treating your car needs regular attention too. The next Coke spill or upended packet of chips and you’re back where you started.

Think of it though as another way to keep you safe in your car. Like a crash helmet or a seat belt. Essential, huh?

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Eek, not food poisoning! Keep calm and cook food thoroughly

Woman butcher
Hygiene and common sense – we’re not utterly defenceless

Relax, nobody’s going to die. Or get the collywobbles . Or anything.

As long as everything is properly cooked, we’re all going to be fine.

Because unless you’re into sushi or steak tartare, nobody eats meat raw, do they?

And if whatever you’re preparing is affected by any bacteria or something, most germs are destroyed by the high temperatures of cooking – everybody’s safe.

Take our current scare with chicken.

There’s all kinds of  official bodies jumping up and down because nearly three-quarters of the chicken in any supermarket is contaminated with campylobacter. Nasty upset tummies with that one, some people can get quite seriously ill.

Inconvenient truths

But here’s a fact of life. Pretty well most poultry has campylobacter. It occurs naturally in birds and may even be necessary for healthy existence. So chickens aren’t contaminated, they’re colonised. Cooked thoroughly, they’re perfectly safe.

It’s like we don’t eat fish with scales, or prawns with the blue vein. They could make you ill too if you were careless enough. It’s part of proper food prep, like shelling eggs, skinning oranges or peeling potatoes.

Of course you DO have to clean everything thoroughly as you do it. Knives, chopping boards, prep surfaces and all utensils need a good scrub after working with chicken. So do your hands, to avoid any risk infection.

But you were going to do all that anyway – WEREN’T you?

It’s the same with Danish bacon. Still about the best you can buy anywhere – but these days unfortunately nearly three-quarters of all Danish pork is afflicted with MRSA.

Well, with so many mouths to feed around the world, we were the ones who pressured farmers in Denmark and elsewhere into boosting production with antibiotics. Shovelling the stuff into livestock in industrial quantities too – 240,000 tonnes a year and skyrocketing.

Superbugs everywhere

Small wonder then that with hundreds of thousands of pigs, any bacteria they were carrying developed resistance. So now we have LA-MRSA (Livestock Associated Methicillin Resistant Streptococcus Aureus) THREATENING us, just like campylobacter.

Well, yes. Except that just like campylobacter, cook that Danish pork properly and all trace of LA-MRSA is removed – the bacon is safe to eat, just like previously.

And right there are two examples of highly popular food types that on the surface present a hazard, but with proper precautions are really nothing to worry about.

Yes, it is disturbing that superbugs like MRSA are in our food. But with antibiotics being used by agriculture in such astronomic quantities, we should heed and take precautions anyway. More than likely all kinds of food types are laced with other superbugs and we need to be on our guard.

At least we can turn up the heat and get rid of most of them – part of the cooking we are already doing.

Worse than superbugs

Much more worrying are residual traces of the antibiotics themselves, which heat cannot get rid of unless you boil your food for hours, losing all taste and appeal.

All those animals were fed antibiotics to keep them healthy in the super-crowded environment of factory farms (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). With the money-making side effect that they fattened up for market in a quarter of the time.

Yeah, well – we eat those animals, we swallow the same antibiotics, we fatten up too. On the one-way road to obesity with all the inevitable complications – diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Literally to a dead end.

Getting rid of the antibiotics – that’s an issue all of us face and none of us are ready for.  A headache for governments and health authorities for years to come.

Superbugs in our food though – they’re a problem too, but we can make them go away.

Guess that answers the question, hey? Would you prefer rare, medium or well-done?

Picture Copyright: leaf / 123RF Stock Photo

Snatched from death – escape by soap and water

Stressed out woman
We have close encounters every day – and we’re only aware of them if we’re unlucky

Phew! A lucky escape.

Another few seconds and you would have been gone.

Some nasty bug – a killer variant of cholera – spread by contaminated food.

Not from your five-star beach hotel of course.

But from your fingers.

Hidden dangers – unaware

Because of the crack-of-dawn start to your sight-seeing tour. A mad dash to the loo before you held the coach up. The market, the temple, the boat-trip, the beach barbie. An amazing day – but without one chance to wash your hands. Or even think about it.

A sizzling plate of food and you’re about to dive in – until you check the grubby fingerprints on your water glass.

Ew, that was you! A whole day’s yuck on your hands – which you don’t even see because germs are too small.

But you excuse yourself anyway and head for the bathroom – all glitter and glass and wafting incense. And luckily for you, a good sensible soap and running hot water.

Grubby fingerprints gone. Gunge from the handrails, manky stuff in the street, don’t-ask from the funny place – and yes, you’re not even aware of it, but faecal residue as well – poo from the loo.

Back home of course, you might get away with it. At worst a touch of norovirus and gone. Not nice while it happens, but you’ll survive. A reminder to ALWAYS wash your hands.

Not quite the same on holiday, especially in hot countries. Germs breed easier, transfer easier – and are very often more deadly. Not worth the risk. And totally avoidable if you wash your hands.

Of course that’s our problem isn’t it?

Unseen, unclean

Our hands don’t LOOK dirty, so we think they’re clean. We’re just not dirt-aware enough to keep remembering. But who wants norovirus – or worse, to come home from their holiday in a box?

Keeping them clean is a schlep too, because germs are everywhere – billions and billions of viruses and bacteria – on every surface, in the air, on our own skin except where we’ve washed our hands. Everything might look harmless, but in reality is a potential nightmare, especially at the office.

OK, we can’t do much about germs surrounding us outside in the open, but we can do something about them in our living space. And the way we are with out modern lifestyles, we spend 90% of our time indoors anyway.

Uh huh. Not exactly the healthiest. WE might be harmless to ourselves, but indoors is a space we share with lots of others – school, work, eating out, entertainment.

Personal germ clouds

And every single one of us carries around our own swirling cloud of hidden bacteria –  so uniquely distinct to each of us that cops in the near future will be able to ID we were there – just by reading our lingering germ-sign.

Which adds up to germs on everything around us – and clouds of germs towed around by others surrounding us. So easy to pick up – by breathing or touching something – and then absently touching our mouth or eyes.

What could it be? Norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter, or escherichia coli? Enough to hospitalise us if they’re bad, or finish us off if we’re unlucky. Or sometimes even worse. How about that cholera variant you had that close call with – from other colleagues back from holiday?

But like soap and water takes germs off your hands, you can take away the germs surrounding you too. Kinda important if you have an underlying medical condition that maybe even you don’t know about. Or one of your colleagues does – and a simple infection triggers a whole life-threatening experience.

Safe and sterile

Which is why all kinds of places are using ionised hydrogen peroxide – misting up their rooms to take down all viruses and bacteria. Safe and sterile every morning, in addition to clean floors and empty waste bins. No smells, no germs, no health problems.

Lucky escapes every day. And you never have to worry about them.

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Giants clash over chicken: Dame Sally vs the FSA

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

Which gift will be yours: cramps, runs or barfs?

Santa doctor
Nobody wants to be ill at this time of year – wash your hands and you should be fine

Yay, festive season!

Jollies and super-grub. Ripping into gift-wrap and cramming our faces. May it all be wonderful and great for every one of you.

It isn’t always though, is it?

Not so nice

Because those tummy rumblings are not always from over-eating. Yup, from Noel to norovirus in just hours. The twelve days of cramps and misery – and all we want to do is die. What evil-minded soul lucked this onto us?

Actually, probably ourselves.

The odds on it being proper food poisoning are pretty remote. Both at home or in a restaurant, most food is prepared and cooked properly enough so that germs are eliminated. Though yeah, norovirus is highly contagious – and yeah, it’s probably from something we’ve eaten.

Except our own fingers put it there.

That’s the trouble with this dratted tummy bug. Most of the time it’s undoubtedly self-inflicted – a reality we tend to avoid, except it’s true – because norovirus is the undisputed No 1 Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

Because our hands touch everything, right? And most of the time we think they’re clean because they look it, so it never occurs to us to wash them.

The invisible nasty

Not good when norovirus is so small it’s only 2 – 5 microns across. You couldn’t see that, even with a magnifying glass.

But it’s so easily there – picked up from high-contact locations like door handles, light switches, grab handles and keypads. And when you come down to it, when WAS the last time you washed your hands? Some time after breakfast? When you went to the loo?

Don’t be ashamed if you can’t remember, a shocking lot of us forget altogether. Would you believe that most of us never think of it after going to the loo – and pretty well all of us never wash before eating?

Now how about the things you touch that NEVER get washed, or never seem to – grab-rails on buses and trains, escalator handrails, just about anything walking down the street – even the inside of your own gloves.

Oops! But our hands don’t LOOK dirty, so we take a chance without knowing it. And the norovirus transfers when we touch our face – which we do 3 or 4 times a minute without thinking – or when we grab a pretzel, piece of stollen or turkey drumstick.

Don’t want the bug – or the cramps? Wash your hands whenever you think of it and you’ll probably be OK.

Second nasty

A word of caution though, about the turkey drumstick.

Gnawing on it at table is probably OK – but turkey needs care in preparation, like any poultry.

That’s because most birds are naturally colonised with a bacterium called campylobacter. It’s harmless to them, but to us humans it’s a villainous carbon copy of norovirus – brings on the cramps, the vomiting and the diarrhoea – exactly what none of us need in the festive season.

Fortunately campylobacter is destroyed by cooking. When that bird is a delicious golden brown, all trace of the bug is gone.

There is a but. Which is that it spreads easily from uncooked meat, so that knives, chopping boards, plates – and of course hands – are easily contaminated during preparation. Wash everything thoroughly and the problem goes away.

Seasons greetings!

So now you’re safe. All set to enjoy every second of the celebrations.

We wish you a very happy and pleasant time – and all the very best for the coming New Year.

With any luck, somebody will give you a nice-smelling soap as a thoughtful reminder.

Go well, and don’t over-eat!

Hand-held BLT disaster – Botulism, Listeria and Travellers diarrhoea

BLT in hands
It’s on your fingers, not in the filling

Scary this.

And slightly more than you might want to chew.

One of the world’s most popular sandwiches – loaded with tummy bugs.

Lunch time bad boy

Enough to take you down for a week or more – with hospital too, if dehydration sets in.

Actually, it’s not the sandwich. It’s probably you.

Because how are you eating it? With your hands, right?

Well of course, it’s a sandwich isn’t it?

Yeah, and in defence of all those thousands of sandwich-making companies (our local is the best in the universe) any bug you get is unlikely to come from them.

There’s too much to lose – happy customers, trading licences, health inspection. Have you any idea how tight the regulations are to protect you?

But you’re eating with your fingers, yes?

Straight in off the street.

Don’t touch it, you don’t know where it’s been

Not wrong, but ask yourself – when was the last time you washed your hands?

Because anything you might have touched before you grabbed that luscious BLT is now transferred to them.

And out in the street, thousands of people touch all kinds of things that you might touch too – almost a guarantee you’ll pick up whatever they’ve got.

Most times either blocked by your immune system – or in too little amounts to attack you effectively.

But wash your hands and the problem goes away.

Ordinary soap and water gets rid of 99.9% of germs – what the medics call Sterility Level 3 (count the 9s). Unless you’re unlucky, you’re probably safe.

Trouble is, we don’t wash our hands most of the time, do we? Especially out and about.

Once we’ve left home, we can go through a whole day without even thinking about it. Including after going to the loo, which so many of us somehow avoid.

Always on the go, it’s a grudge thing to do – like combing your hair or brushing your shoes. Too much PT and not enough time.

Until that innocent-looking BLT bites you back.

Yes, it’s food poisoning, but mostly transferred off your own hand. From any one of the trillions and trillions of viruses or bacteria that there are in the world. Take your pick for your own BLT.

B is for Bacon – and Botulism or B.cereus

Botulism for instance, is not very common – and not something anyone wants to catch. Because it’s not the bacteria themselves, it’s the toxins they produce that are so nasty. They attack the nervous system, not your tummy – causing paralysis that can kill you.

Much more likely on your fingers is b.cereus – yes, we ARE being serious! That’s bacillus cereus to give it its full name – also a toxin producer, but not quite so deadly. Vomiting and diarrhoea are its worst shots – usually all over in 24 hours. Leave your BLT lying around before you nosh it, and b.cereus jumps in on the bacon when it cools.

L is for Lettuce – and Listeria

Listeria is not nice either – and a real hazard for pregnant women. Because it’s not just unpleasant diarrhoea, listeriosis leads to aches, fever, loss of balance and even convulsions. Worst off all, expectant mothers could lose their babies.

T is for Tomato – and Traveller’s Diarrhoea

Traveller’s diarrhoea is the pits too, but not so threatening. Every traveller’s unwanted friend, it’s more commonly recognised as e.coli – one of the Big Four holiday bugs – e.coli, norovirus, salmonella and campylobacter.

No, you don’t want any of these. Which is why you wash your hands every chance you get.

Or if it’s too much of a drag, you carry antiseptic gel or antiseptic wipes.

For less than a quid a throw, they’re the easiest, quickest way to ensure you’re safe whatever you eat.

Not a disaster – a moment of pleasure.

Right there, at your fingertips.

Enjoy your BLT.

Chicken campylobacter: really a packaging issue

Happy supermarket shopper
No more getting sick from chicken – problem solved

From the headlines, you’d think we’re all going to die.

There’s this deadly killer bacteria – three-quarters of all chickens have got it – just touch one and you’re dead.

Yeah? So where’s all the corpses outside KFC? It’s the most popular meat in the country, the bodies should be piled in the streets.

Back to reality

Instead of which, there’s all these kids, munching on drumsticks. They look pretty healthy, bouncing round like kids do. Grown-ups looking pretty good too.

Wassup?

Misplaced hysteria is what.

Because campylobacter disappears when chicken is cooked – in the same way that germs are destroyed when you boil water. And who in their right mind eats raw chicken? It’s not sushi!

Yeah but 75% of all birds are infected – you can’t eat diseased food.

Infected, huh?

So why aren’t they sick and dying too? Where’s the world-wide poultry disaster?

Check out the birds. Go see what the truth is, then decide.

Oh sure, there’s the whole thing about they should be free range, not reared in broiler houses – but that’s another issue.

Eyeball the birds for yourself and you’ll see they’re all healthy – the farmer would be out of bizz if they weren’t.

Not sick. No infected. Perfectly normal.

Not infected, naturally colonised

Yeah well, campylobacter occurs naturally in birds. That’s why so many have got it.

Like we have bacteria in our own gut – more than 1,000 different species. They’re supposed to be there too – without them we couldn’t digest anything.

So campylobacter is right for birds, but wrong for us.

OK, so we take care of it before eating. Problem solved. Like deboning a fish, peeling an orange, or taking the pip out of a peach. Not rocket science.

Things is, campylobacter is all over raw chickens – inside and outside. Which is why they say don’t wash it. The contaminated water gets everywhere – on knives and other utensils, on chopping boards – and on your hands.

You see, it’s not the cooked chicken that brings you the vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s the raw chicken water from your unwashed hands getting in your mouth.

Our own bad habits

For sure. Because it’s a fact of life that we touch our faces 3 to 5 times every minute – unconscious reflex. And most of us never bother to wash our hands at any time, not just preparing food. So the stuff goes down our throat and there we are – instant infection.

Right, so how about the hoo-hah that chicken makes your shopping unsafe? Get home with all your stuff, put it away and boom! Nausea, cramps, and the whole toot in just hours.

Yeah, well. The first thing is wash your hands – the best protection against any germs, whatever you’re doing.

The second thing is, check the packaging.

Shrink-wrap, right? No wonder your shopping gets contaminated. Any liquids from that bird are free to leak all over the place – inside your shopping bags, onto your hands, and dripping on everything else inside your fridge.

OK, so first things first.

Always keep chicken separate. In its own bag when you buy it. In its own bag when you bring it home. In its own bag at the bottom of the fridge – so it can’t leak, but if it does, it’s underneath everything else.

Next, wash your hands and everything else, every time you handle it. Except when it’s cooked of course, that’s when it’s safe.

Long term of course, it’s up to the Food Standards Agency.

Instead of running round wringing their hands that chicken farmers aren’t preventing campylobacter getting into their birds, they should be fixing the packaging.

Leak-proof, or else

Vacuum sealed, not shrink-wrapped.

No leaks, no contamination, no problem.

Enforceable by law that they’re empowered to declare.

Not spending millions on technology – boxing smart, round the problem.

Allowing for administrative fumble time, maybe six weeks at the most. And another three months after that for producers to get their compulsory vacuum-sealing machines into place – job done.

Heavy fines and pulled licences otherwise.

And nobody sick with campylobactor anywhere.

Then it should be onto a real food poisoning issue – like scombroid contamination in canned tuna. They’re the Food Standards Agency – get on with it.

And that wraps that up.

Yes, we NEED germs – but only in the right place

Girl with glow
With germs, the impossible could be closer than we think

Start with the mirror.

You think that’s you, don’t you?

Well y-e-s, but not entirely.

In fact, far from entirely.

Because our own human body cells are outnumbered by bacteria more than 100 to 1. Every one of them living inside us and actually helping us live. If they weren’t there, we wouldn’t survive.

Not who we think we are

Surprised?

Yeah well, the entire world’s like that. Every living thing is home to whole hosts of bacteria essential to existence. Which makes bacteria way more important than most of us ever think. We’re not infected with them, we’re colonised by them.

So our paranoia about destroying them is most unwise.

Uh huh.

Think again

So how come this blog is called Back Off, Bacteria? Isn’t that about getting rid of microorganisms?

Far from it.

Reality Number One. Bacteria are vitally necessary for every living function.

But not ALL bacteria are appropriate in every situation.

Campylobacter for instance, occurs naturally in poultry – 75% of chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and wild birds have it in their gut. Somehow it helps in the digestion of whatever they eat – processing the grit perhaps, or balancing natural sugars.

In humans however, campylobacter is highly pathogenic – the most common cause of food poisoning. In the UK alone, 300,000 people die from it every year.

OK, you can see the connection. Chicken is a highly popular source of cheap protein – so the whole food industry is up in arms about the contamination of our top of the pops menu choice.

Contamination, schm-ontamination.

It occurs naturally in birds, right? It’s SUPPOSED to be there.

So what’s the problem?

Everybody, the Food Safety Agency, producers, supermarkets, chefs, restaurants – all know that if you cook chicken properly, all campylobacter is destroyed. Those wings, drumsticks and nuggets are totally safe to eat.

And again

So, Reality Number Two. Bacteria are only beneficial when they’re in the right place.

Which is why this blog is called Back Off, Bacteria!

Back Off, Bacteria! Get back to where you belong.

There are over 500 microbe types that colonise our gut – bacteriods, peptococci, staphylococci, streptococci, bacilli, clostridia, yeasts, enterobacteria, fuzobacteria, eubacteria, catenobacteria, etc – we don’t need a rogue outsider coming in and upsetting the apple cart.

As long as a bacterium is in the right place, that’s OK.

But the wrong place needs action if you don’t want to sicken and die.

Which is why – first line of defence – you should wash your hands so you don’t ingest some harmful killer bug you can’t see.

And second – you should sterilise your surrounding environment so any other dangerous pathogens can’t invade you any other way.

Out of sight, out of mind

No, it’s not rocket science. But since viruses and bacteria are too small to see, they’re just not on anybody’s radar. Nobody sees any danger, so there isn’t any.

Mistake. The wrong bacterium in the wrong place can kill you as efficiently as any bullet. And just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there – how about cholera, tetanus or TB?

So back to earth. Bacteria are simple, not second-guessing the whole universe all the time like we do.

All they do is eat. And when they can’t find the right food, they eat us – which is what infection is.

They’re also programmed to survive, just like we are. Except they work in minutes and hours, not decades. And they’ve been around for billions of years longer so they’re a hell of a lot better at it.

If one cell dies off, its offspring will carry on. And on, and on, and on – more persistently than we humans ever even get close to.

And you’d better believe it, since they outnumber our own body cells more than 100 to 1, they’re the ones calling the shots, not us.

Who’s the boss?

Think it’s your brain telling the body what to do?

Where do you think we get gut feel from, or the physical symptoms that are triggered by stress?

Butterflies in your tummy? The bacteria are apprehensive, they want to survive. They’re warning you. Don’t do whatever you’re planning to do because there’s danger or unpleasantness ahead.

Yeah, your brain can override them, but at what cost? Acid tummy, shaking muscles, nerves shot to pieces. These guys know which strings to pull – and they do.

Again, Back Off, Bacteria – we’ve got other priorities to satisfy. Like getting through that interview, or proposing to your sweetheart – not all going into combat, or jumping off a cliff.

Magical powers

Bacteria may even have “magic” qualities that makes us think of the supernatural.

As regular readers of this blog will know, bacteria carry a tiny electrical charge positive on the outside, negative on the inside.

It’s this charge that enables negatively-charged ionised hydrogen peroxide molecules to latch onto them only the fly – oxidising them to oblivion in one of the most efficient room sterilising procedures ever.

Researchers have also found that the electrical charge in bacteria like e. coli can actually generate light – creating flashes like Christmas tree lights.

Put that together with the fact that we’re always surrounded by a “bio-cloud” of billions and billions of bacteria all the time – and it’s possible that under the right conditions we really do generate a visible aura.

Better still, as bacteria respond to our changing body conditions, the electrical charge they put out could vary, changing the actual colour of this aura. Maybe not a myth any more, but genuine reality.  All those child prodigies, swamis and spiritual mediums might have been right all along.

So yeah – germs, we need ’em.

Let’s just make sure we keep them in a safe place.

Chicken is OK to eat, as long as you’re careful

Girl with chicken
There’s a problem with chicken? I never knew there was a problem with chicken

Well, here we are.

One week on from Food Safety Week – one week on from the 2015 Chicken Challenge – and most of us are still alive. A roll of drumsticks please!

Yep, we’re learning.

Doing the bold thing

Thanks to sterling efforts by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we’re all making the effort to avoid food poisoning from chicken by:

  • keeping raw chicken separate from other all other food, where it can’t drip or leak on the bottom shelf of the fridge
  • not washing raw chicken or splashing water from it around as this spreads highly contagious campylobacter germs
  • actively washing everything that’s been in contact with raw chicken to remove germs from cutting boards, utensils, and of course hands – all with plenty of soap and hot water
  • ensuring chicken is thoroughly cooked through – no more pink meat and juices running clear

Do all these things and we’re safe from the widespread campylobacter bug – the one that causes more of us to have cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea than any other common tummy germ.

Widespread? Oh yes. It’s the UK’s No 1 cause of tummy upsets.

Most birds, all birds

Hardly surprising as around 75% of all poultry has campylobacter resident in its gut. And we are a nation of chicken-eaters – 2.2 million chickens a week, 803 million chickens a year.

That’s a meal of chicken at least once a month for everyone in the UK.

Which has the FSA breathing fire and brimstone that poultry producers and the supermarkets should be doing something about it. They want birds with campylobacter reduced to zero. 280,000 people a year go ill with campylobacter – and this is the Twenty-First Century for goodness sake!

Other people are in on the act too. Like the consumer heavy who said: “It beggars belief that nearly three-quarters of chickens on sale in supermarkets are still infected with this potentially deadly bug and that no retailers have met the FSA’s target.”

Infected?

Healthy as nature intended

Time to get real. You see, 75% of all poultry has campylobacter because it occurs naturally in birds. Their digestive system is not the same as ours, so the bacterium is benign, non-pathogenic, harmless.

Inhabited, yes, but not infected. All these birds are perfectly healthy.

Robbing them of campylobacter could even do them harm.

Besides, we know the dangers and how to fix them, why point a finger at the poultry farmers?

It’s like locking up cows because they get muddy feet. Well of course they do, they eat grass – and in this green, green, rain-drenched UK of ours, grass gets wet all the time, so mud is inevitable.

But we don’t penalise the cows for muddy feet – just like we don’t penalise chickens for having campylobacter.

We have a defence

Heat through pasteurisation kills the germs in milk – and heat through cooking kills the germs in chickens.

So yes, it’s right to make a fuss, the FSA is right. But not by controlling the birds.

By fixing the packaging.

By protecting us from any leaks or contamination from raw chicken meat, right through to the cooked birds which are harmless.

And yes, right now most packaging is pretty manky. Rack ’em, stack ’em, and pack ’em bargain basement stuff that leaks all over the place – no wonder we come down with the bug.

About the best are cook-in-the-bag prepared recipes. Safe because the chicken and all ingredients are sealed in to make sure the recipe works.

But check out any of the El Cheapo packs of wings and drumsticks – it’s a whole other story.

And if that stuff leaks on your other shopping, on in the fridge when you finally get it home, the family could be in for a really ropey few days.

Time for action

Yeah, so come on FSA – hit those guys hard for better packaging and everybody will be better off.

Until then though, don’t take chances. Keep your chicken in its own separate plastic wrapping away from everything else – and don’t forget to wash your hands. (Tweet this)

Bon appetit!

Nobody eats raw chicken, so why the problems?

Girl shrugs shoulders
If all birds have the bug and cooking
kills it, they’re all safe to eat, right?

280,000 problems to be exact.

That’s the number of people who come down with campylobacter in a year – a really yucky stomach upset that makes you super-queasy, gives you the runs, and triggers some of the worst cramps you’ve ever experienced.

UK’s biggest villain

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA ), campylobacter is far and away the UK’s biggest cause of food poisoning. Worse than its nasty friends norovirus, salmonella and e.coli – all horrible bugs that you get from eating something.

That means chicken if you’re unfortunate enough to catch campylobacter. An unpleasant stomach upset that can take you out for three days, even cause paralysis and death.

And the FSA is right to jump up and down about it.

Around 75% of poultry has it – chickens, turkeys, a lot of other animals too. It lives naturally in their gut without harm, probably even helping with digestion – like lactobacillus does in our own systems.

Trouble is, our metabolisms are quite different to chickens. What’s good for you goose is not good for you gander – once campylobacter gets loose in your digestive system, you’re in for a roller-coaster tough time.

Uh huh. So if if 75% of poultry has it, why don’t we crash out with campylobacter all the time?

The heat is on

Because, lucky us, all traces of campylobacter are completely destroyed by cooking. (Tweet this) Once the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear, that chicken is safe to eat for everyone.

Kinda vital when you remember that chicken is one of our least expensive and popular foods – in everything from fast food to posh nosh.

But this campylobacter stuff is a mean player. It’s highly contagious, and just one drop of moisture or juices from a contaminated bird is enough to bring down a whole restaurant.

Which is why the FSA is continually jumping up and down about NOT washing raw chicken. The water you use and the splashes it makes are all contaminated.

So are utensils you might use – chopping boards and work surfaces too – which is why washing them down thoroughly is essential.

Hand hygiene

Your hands too, of course.

We’re none of us as sharp as we should be with hand hygiene, and forgetting to wash probably causes more illnesses throughout the country than anything else. Campylobacter alone costs us around £900 million a year in NHS treatment and lost productivity.

OK, so don’t wash raw chicken. Don’t eat it either. Common sense really. Like don’t eat unshelled seafood or unpeeled fruit – doing that will make you sick too.

Even so, a lot of people keep getting sick – so the FSA also jump up and down about controlling poultry production and why don’t supermarkets insist on only trouble-free birds?

Er, excuse us – totally, utterly wrong.

Blame the packaging

75% of all birds – we’re talking 2.2 million birds a week here. That’s how many we eat – more popular than fish and chips. Chicken tikka masala, right?

Culling that lot and starting again would bankrupt the industry – and push shopping budgets through the roof.

The nation’s Number One popular food suddenly at premium prices – they’ll have your guts for garters, mate!

Much more sense to target the packaging. Easier to control too.

Walk into Aldi, and you’ll see whole chickens have the label DON’T WASH RAW CHICKEN. That’s a good start. Add a warning that it must also be properly cooked and we’re getting somewhere.

But walk into ANY supermarket and just look the packaging. Most of the time, its shrink-wrapped onto a styrene tray, not even vacuum-sealed. Not good, Jim.

Distributed like that, any liquids from the product can leak. Onto others in the refrigerated lorry. Onto others in the display cabinets. Onto others in your fridge at home.

And one drop is all it takes – wow, wow, wow, campylobacter for the whole family.

Not from the chicken, which was properly cooked and enjoyed. But from the splash of liquid that fell onto the fresh tomatoes you had in the vegetable drawer underneath.

A bad dose of that and they’ll have to pump your stomach at A&E.

An un-problem really

Properly cooked, chicken is not a problem – look at KFC.  The same sourced chicken as all other supermarkets in UK, and campylobacter doesn’t happen.

So most birds have campylobacter, get over it.

And even if you could isolate the “clean” ones, how are you going to prevent contamination from others – cull all the robins and sparrows and blackbirds too?

Insist on sealed, leak-proof packaging and the problem goes away.

Nobody eats raw chicken. Period.

Which brings the real problem right back to washing hands and everything you use to prep the food with.

Clean or else

They should make it a law – wash everything properly, or you could die.

Hey, wait a minute, that’s already true!

One chance too many and out we go, feet first.

We have been warned.