Tag Archives: food poisoning

However sick we are of norovirus, it’s our own careless fault

Depressed exec on bench
Is it worth it? Four days of hell like the end of the world – all from forgetting to wash your hands

Bah, humbug! Food poisoning, that’s what it is. Own careless fault be blowed, it’s those dodgy merchants.

Sure, sure. You’re not wrong about food poisoning. Norovirus pretty well always comes from something we’ve eaten, so can’t fault you there.

Thing is though, how did that food get poisoned in the first place?

Embarrassing reality

Yeah OK, dirt or contamination. You’re not wrong about that  either. But how does the dirt get there?

Tell you what, try a quick comparison. A Tom, Dick or Harriet nine-to-fiver going through a day. And a restaurant chef or kitchen staff member going through the same day – before our Tom, Dick or Harriet sit down to eat at the same place in the evening.

The 9 to 5 day

Start with the alarm at 6.30 (yes, people do get up at that time), hit the loo, wash and polish, cup of instant to get started and gone. The commute is an hour, so it’s newspaper or tablet – depends on whether they’re strap-hanging. The coffee-bar is their kick-start, for a takeaway flat white and Danish – then up in the lift and nosh at their desk while checking out the overnight emails. The rest of the day is computer and meetings, with the odd pop downstairs for a pee-break, and a sarnie from the local greasy spoon. Same drill in the afternoon and they’re done. Meet the other half for a couple of quick ones in the Red Lion and they’re ready. Sitting down and reading menus at just after 8.00.

The “Yes chef” day

More of a shock to the system, our caterer’s day starts at 3.30. Quick shower and black instant – allowing time for fresh produce shopping at New Covent Garden from around 4.30. Ten minutes for a cappuccino and an amaretti, then straight into Smithfield before the main mob arrive, meat-buying all done and dusted before getting to the shop at 8.00. Into the day with scrub-up and prep followed by staff nosh around 10.30, ready for serious head-down for the lunch rush – a whole day of scrubbing, chopping, slicing and dicing, all the time cleaning on the run. A break at 4.00 if all goes good, setting up for the evening and the VIP guest at 8.00.

Now the question in both cases – how many times did anybody wash their hands?

And just to keep things in perspective, here’s the normal behaviour pattern:

Gruesome hygiene facts

Uh, huh. Could just be that a chef or catering staff would have better hygiene habits than that. Dead-cert probability of getting fired otherwise. The slightest risk of food poisoning is the kiss of death – end of business, end of job, end of career. Careless faults are not allowed.

Worked out yet where the norovirus is coming from? Or how the bug got onto the food that got swallowed? Who’s careless fault is that?

The guilty nobody

OK, here’s another scenario. Exactly as before, except our chef is late arriving at the restaurant – buses on diversion because of a demonstration, cops everywhere, nightmare gridlock.

No problem, New Covent Garden deliver before it happens. Nobody there, so the stuff sits on the pavement by the front door. No chance of getting nicked, nobody at work yet. All restaurants do it anyway.

Only this time the underside of the lettuce crate picks up some yuck. And it winds up on the stainless steel table in the veg prep area when all staff flood in at a rush, running late because of the traffic.

It’s just a little hiccup in the hygiene, mind – so the steel table maybe gets less of a wipedown than it should. The clock is ticking and lunch could be late. Not a careless fault, but not forgivable either.

That’s all it takes and norovirus is in, all set to zap anyone ordering a salad. Three days later, disaster strikes – and the phone rings off the hook from irate customers.

OK yeah, it happens. And the careless fault is nobody’s. Or is it?

One finger pointing, three fingers pointing back

But it could just as easily happen the other way – when Tom, Dick or Harriet paw over the menu with their unwashed hands. Norovirus isn’t choosy, anyone taking chances with basic hygiene is fair target.

So who’s careless fault is it? ALL of us for not being watchful. Clean hands are so easy to achieve, yet most of the time we never even think about them.

Worth trying to remember though. Anything to avoid those end-of-the-world cramps and the deadly upchucks. Not to mention the acid runs that dissolve your guts out.

After you with the soap.

Picture Copyright: ljupco / 123RF Stock Photo

Originally posted 2016-11-29 15:19:33.

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

Originally posted 2016-10-06 15:24:02.

Food poisoning for real, or customer trying it on?

Fingers crossed
Just because you can’t SEE germs, doesn’t mean our hands aren’t loaded with them

Not used to issues like this, are you?

It raises an uncomfortable question – not for you, for your customers.

Because right up front, how many of them wash their hands before they eat?

“Ew Factor” could cost you thousands

But you already know the answer – can probably say exactly how many guests get up from their table before food is served and go to the restroom.

Yeah, right. A handful maybe, depending on the size of your place. Certainly not everybody, your restroom’s not that big. And all those people moving around at once would upset the other diners – never mind your staff twisting through with hot plates.

Which means everybody else is straight in off the street and you don’t know where they’ve been. Or more to the point, where their hands have been.

OK, so put yourself in their shoes, what do you reckon?

Did they wash before leaving work? After their ride in the taxi/Underground? And if not, what were they doing before that? What did they touch?

Or to stop the pussy-footing, what’s on their fingers RIGHT NOW that could give them collywobbles if they swallowed it?

Collywobbles meaning norovirus, or some equally unpleasant bug spread by direct contact.

Poo on their fingers

Yeah, they call it the “winter vomiting bug” and other round-the-houses names  – but the elephant in the room is that it spreads from unwashed hands. And unwashed hands in a food business like yours is an unspeakable but major problem.

Not staff hands, CUSTOMER hands – because they’re the ones touching everything and actually going into mouths.

Sure, your own staff need to be careful too – but they know the odds. Poor hygiene, bad rep, nasty lawsuits, shut the business, no more job. Not worth the risk.

Not like your customers.

Yeah, sure – loyal to you, enthusiastic about the experience you offer, nice enough on the surface.

Except like most of us, they don’t take criticism – and certainly would never accept it’s THEIR dirty hands that made them ill, not something wrong with your food.

They’re customers, see? Never wrong. And probably in denial that their personal hygiene is ever less than perfect. Like, their hands don’t LOOK dirty, do they?

Push comes to shove, it’s likely they’ll win any court case, even though it’s probably their own fault.

How can we dare to say this?

Because when you look at the facts, our day-to-day hygiene is so bad, it’s a wonder we’re not ALL of us in hospital with dysentery or something worse.

So there you are, busting a gut, doing everything to make your food safe and your place spotless. And there’s Mr Money-Bags, all too ready to squawk at the slightest hiccup, let alone tummy-ache – sitting posh as you like, quite probably with poo on his hands.

Or just as likely, on the cash or credit card he’s going to shove at you at the end of the meal.

Food poisoning? Yeah, pull the other one.

Except there’s not a lot you can do is there? Certainly not diss your customers or lay blame on them. And there’s no way you can FORCE them to the restroom.

How to start winning

But you can get ahead of the game. Turn it round and make it work for you.

Remember the last time YOU went on a splurge? Hit some swanky restaurant or flew first class – swanning around like you owned the place, at least for one night?

OK, remember the hot towels? All terribly la-di-da, offered to you with white gloves and a pair of tongs – a courtesy to wipe your hands and face.

Right, so you pull the same stunt.

Only instead of hot towels, YOU offer YOUR guests individual sachets of antiseptic hand wipes. Mr Money-Bags is not going to refuse is he? Mrs Money-Bags will probably even open it for him. And your staff look like paragons of virtue – especially with a silver tray to collect the used wipes afterwards

Which means if either of them has poo on their hands, the problem has gone away. Food poisoning isn’t going to happen because you’ve removed the cause. And your customers think you’re a million dollars for being so thoughtful.

To ram it home, you pull the stunt even further. Sterilise the whole place so guests know you’re serious about offering a good experience and caring for their welfare.

After trade every night or before you open next morning, you mist the place up for an hour or so with ionised hydrogen peroxide. One button on the Hypersteriliser machine does the trick.

No more viruses or bacteria anywhere in the treated areas. Not on tables, chairs, glasses, cutlery, light fittings, anything – not even in the air around them. Safe, secure, sterilised for your protection.

Customers still trying it on?

We don’t think so. Not unless there really IS something off with your food.

But somehow, you’re not likely to let that happen.

 Picture Copyright: citalliance / 123RF Stock Photo

Originally posted 2016-01-26 15:12:54.

If you buy someone a burger with dirty hands and they die from it, isn’t that murder?

Fingers pointing at woman
You did wash your hands, didn’t you? Didn’t you? DIDN’T you?

Can’t happen, right?

And at least it can’t be you.

Death by misadventure, more like. Just Fate.

Like, here’s this van parked up in a lay-by selling burgers and you’ve got the munchies, why not? A burger for your friend and bacon butty for you. Looks OK, lorry-drivers all use it, what could be wrong?

The price for not thinking

Food poisoning is what. The worst kind.

Only twenty minutes to kick in too. Doubled-up with cramps, explosive vomiting, cold to touch like you can’t believe – in a coma before you even get to A&E. Another hour and the worst happens – staphylococcal poisoning and some underlying condition nobody knew was there.

Your best friend – gone. Dead from a burger.

Not your fault, right?

How could you know that burger van was suspect? Could happen to anyone.

Yeah, but – even a burger van has to conform to standards.

Public liability insurance, health and safety, health and hygiene certificates – there’s a whole load of legal stuff they have to satisfy before they can hit the road.

Operating regulations too – buying from safe supply, clean preparation area, regulated cooking time, washing hands, covering hair, wearing aprons, handling food with gloves – they can’t just willy-nilly flip burgers.

Which means that burger was probably OK when they handed it to you. The bacon butty too – nothing happened to you, did it?

Yeah, that burger van’s hygiene standards were most likely 100% up to scratch. Those lorry drivers would complain like hell otherwise – and they’d soon go out of business if they weren’t. Fines, criminal charges – lots of nasties to avoid.

So how did it happen?

One finger pointing, three pointing back

You took the burger and the butty back to the car, she opened the door, you gave it to her – has to be the burger van.

Uh huh.

And just for the record, when did you actually wash your hands before all this? What were you handling? Did you touch or talk to anyone who had an infection? Did you handle their clothing or bedding?

Oh, sure. You MEANT to wash your hands. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t – most of the time we all THINK we did. Anyway, what does it matter?

Staph contamination on your hands is what.

We all KNOW we’re supposed to wash our hands after handling stuff – and we all KNOW we’re supposed to do it again before handling food.

It’s like a responsibility to ourselves, to keep us safe from anything happening. Basic hygiene we learnt as kids.

OK, but what about other people?

If we forget to wash our hands and then handle THEIR food, isn’t it our fault?

And isn’t that what happened?

Staph bacteria transferred to the burger, instant food poisoning – game over.

But nothing happened to you, because most of the time it doesn’t. Staph can grow naturally on the skin or in the nose of around 25% of us – all quite safe unless it gets on food.

Which is what hand washing is all about.

Death by negligence

So if you didn’t wash your hands, isn’t that negligence?

And if somebody dies because of it, isn’t that murder?

Not intended or pre-empted or anything, but a cause of death nevertheless.

Death by negligence. Murder, right?

At the very least manslaughter, or culpable homicide.

Yes, culpable – because we all know about washing hands before touching food, don’t we?

A doctor could get struck off for that.

And friends can die from it.

It’s not some ritual we can shrug off, or a matter of conscience. It’s a vital safety measure.

Like turning off power, keeping matches in a safe place, locking the front door, using a seat belt, wearing a crash helmet, checking a gun’s safety catch is on. Forget the last three of those, and we could wind up in court.

So why not washing hands too? It’s not a game or some silly habit. Nurses and doctors prove it every day in hospital – WASHING HANDS SAVES LIVES.

Or not washing them kills. Guilty, or not guilty? Murder or no?

Hold that thought – nag, nag, nag.

The life you save may be your own.

Originally posted 2015-12-01 15:31:30.

Red-handed! Our biggest cause of food poisoning

Red-handed
The evidence is there – and it’s got our finger-prints all over it

It’s right there at our fingertips – and we never even know it.

None of the usual suspects either – not norovirus or c.difficile or salmonella or e.coli.

Not even campylobacter – though messing around with raw chicken can make you pretty queasy.

Sticky fingers us

Nope, it’s all of these and more. And the REAL villain of the piece is right under our noses – our own greasy, cotton-picking mitts.

Our own..?

Greasy? Cotton-picking?

A bit harsh isn’t? A bit rude?

Ah, but reality is harsh. The truth hurts, especially in denial.

Sure we washed our hands at some stage during the morning. And then?

Caught red-handed!

What about all the things we’ve touched, grabbed hold of, carried, pushed, pulled, fingered all over or thrown away? Were they clean too? Were they safe to handle without scrubbing up afterwards?

And, ew! How about when we went to the loo? Super gross, or what?

Celebrity dirty

Apparently not. No less a superstar than Hunger Games heroine Jennifer Lawrence publicly admits she doesn’t wash her hands after spending a penny. She even pees in the basin.

And she’s not alone.

So, yes. Greasy, cotton-picking, GERM-LADEN mitts.

Disgusting?

Only sort of.

Because we’re not really to blame. Just forgetful.

See, if our hands were VISIBLY DIRTY, pretty well all of us would wash them off right away. We know we don’t want that yuck going on our food – collywobbles for sure.

Concealed evidence

But they’re not visibly dirty, are they? They LOOK clean.

And that’s the problem – you can’t see germs. They’re too darned small. Two or three thousand on the POINT of a pin. Nothing to see here, move on, move on.

Not the same as if they itched like crazy (which some of them do, of course). Or caused a rash (they do that too). Or made us feel cold, or like our hands were in hot water.

But there’s no reminder, nothing.

And so we go merrily on, blissfully unaware – from one potential health hazard to the next.

Like when was that hanging strap on the Jubilee Line last wiped down with bleach? Or the escalator handrail? Or the grab-rail on the No 19? Does anyone ever wipe the push-rail of street door to the office building? Or even THINK about wiping the Lift Call button?

Causing sickness

Plus then of course, there’s the hiccup that we’re late – signal failure at Oxford Circus. But when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go – so the pee-break is a rush before we get to the office. And then, wouldn’t you know, it’s our turn to make coffee for everyone.

Rush, rush, rush – no time to wash our hands. But what the heck, they look OK, don’t they?

So Priscilla on the Help Desk never knows how she caught that stomach bug straight of nowhere. Gastroenteritis – nasty. Vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea – three days off, like death warmed up. And there’s us, praying we’ll never get it.

OK, just wash our hands.

Because there’s germs all around us, all the time.

And even when we’ve washed your hands, THEY’RE STILL THERE.

Our hands might be clean but everything else isn’t. Like our desks probably have 10 million bacteria on them each, right now.

It gets worse.

Like we probably think that washing up when we get home gets rid of the germs on our plates and knives and forks – just before we come down with – not gastroenteritis this time but salmonella. Vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea – same difference.

And no wonder. All that glurk, all in the one place – water, suds, grease, sauce, food bits, crumbs, dust – a totally iffy bacterial soup. Possibly the worst thing we could ever do to stay healthy. And we’re going to put our hands in that?

So, no reminder.

Avoiding sickness

As soon as we wash our hands, they get dirty again. Dirty in germ terms – cramps, diarrhoea, hospital, life support. Which means we have to remember, they’re DIRTY ALL THE TIME.

Kinda changes the rules in keeping ourselves healthy, doesn’t it? Not just avoiding food poisoning, but more serious stuff too. Bird flu, asthma, TB – or some hooligan virus we picked up on holiday chasing the sun. One of those serious, life-threatening ones.

DIRTY ALL THE TIME? Wash Hands Logo

To really play safe, we’ve got to wash our hands all the time too. Kinda impractical that, so make that wash hands before anything critical – and certainly after anything yucky. Like, before food, after loo.

And everywhere in between if we remember. Because among all the other things, we’re touching our faces 2,000 – 3,000 times a day too. Wiping our invisibly dirty hands on the germ-entry points of mouth, nose, eyes and ears.

So it’s not just food poisoning we’re worried about – it’s finger poisoning.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

And you imagined the worst that could happen today was a broken nail.

Originally posted 2015-11-09 15:47:51.

100 mph, eyes shut – crashed & burned, eating

Fireball
Eating with dirty hands is just as lethal

Yeah, well it looked safe enough.

Straight hamburger and chips, no big deal.

Except 2 hours later, cramps like dying. Upchucks more violent than a volcano. And you don’t want to know about the runs.

Uh huh.

Don’t blame the restaurant

But forget about suing anyone.

79 people ahead of this one ordered burger and chips. 38 people after.

None of them had anything wrong. Somebody having a laugh?

How come one case of “food poisoning” when everyone else was clean?

Clean – hold that thought.

As in clean hands.

Except it didn’t happen, did it?

The price of forgetfulness

Like doing the ton-up with eyes shut – on bald tyres, with no brakes or seatbelt.

Yeah, possible to get away with it once. Maybe even twice.

But keep chowing that burger without soap and water first – crashed and burned is inevitable.

Like hitting a brick wall. Gruesome at home, solo. Not nice either, at A&E. Better pray the stomach pump works. That dehydration doesn’t crash the body completely.

Dead from a hamburger?

Not unless it lodged in the throat – a Heimlich manoeuvre gone screwy. Not unless it was murder – strychnine or arsenic laced on top.

Hot off the grill

Because a burger gets cooked from frozen – dropped on the grill where it sizzles and does its thing at 155°F – that’s 68°C – too hot for germs like e.coli or salmonella. No food poisoning there.

Ah, but the hands that unwrap it and scoff it. On average, walking down the street, 10 million microbes on each hand. 20 million on both.

Yeah sure, plenty of harmless stuff, nothing to worry about.

Plenty of bad stuff as well. Like faecal matter from being careless in the loo. And all the usual suspects – e.coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, campylobacter, MRSA, flu and norovirus. Too small to see, but there anyway – just waiting for an opportunity.

Any one of those – crash and burn big time. Only about 100 deaths each per bug. Annoying reality though – dead unfortunately means dead. No chance to go round and wash hands again. Too late to say sorry.

Better to live

Reality means gone to the big fast food joint in the sky.

Time to slow down. Take it easy, wash hands first.

A lot less of a health hazard.

More chance of living to a ripe old age.

Originally posted 2015-11-02 17:13:15.

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.

Originally posted 2015-10-01 14:45:40.

How to eat nothing and still catch food poisoning

Disagreeing woman
It’s not just what you eat – it’s everything you touch as well

It can’t happen.

But it has.

For whatever reason, you’re not eating right now.

Nil by mouth – you’re going for blood tests, trying to lose weight, or simply purifying your system.

Why me?

And now out of nowhere comes the cramps and the vomiting. Some kind of gastro, probably norovirus.

Weird though.

The family all went out for eats, but you stayed home. Not off your food or anything, just not eating now.

So they came home full of the joys, but 24 hours later were all as sick as dogs.

You too, though you never touched at thing. Anyway Mexican disagrees with you – all those jalapeños, burn your insides out.

Ah, but you touched them, didn’t you – the rest of the family? And they touched you.

It’s on your fingers

And that’s all it takes when there are germs about, especially a potent nasty like norovirus. Like the lady who came down with it from NOT eating oysters.

Norovirus spreads on contact – and it’s highly contagious, 1,000 times more virulent than flu.

A hug or a cuddle, and you’ve got it too. Transferred from skin or clothing – or something others have handled. Irises from the florist they brought back for you. The mobile with the pictures they took to show who was there. The car keys in the dish in the hallway.

Could you have stopped it?

Probably.

But like most of us, you don’t think you’re under threat until something happens. And with norovirus – which takes 24 hours before it shows itself – it’s too late when it does.

Which is always the thing with germs.

Invisible killers

They’re there all the time, even though you can’t seem them. Too small, unless you have a very powerful microscope. Out of sight, out of mind.

And your immune system kicks in most of the time, before they do damage. Day-to-day, you have no idea there’s a war on.

But, being so potent, norovirus only needs a touch. And it’s lighter than air molecules, so it could be floating around in suspension too. Somebody pulls off a heavy sweater and a whole cloud of microbes is flung off – to breathe in, catch on your skin, lodge in the soft tissue round your eye

Or simply get swallowed.

Same thing if it’s on your hands – the hug, remember?

And your hands touch everything.

Which is why we call norovirus the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

Because it is.

We don’t see germs, so we’re not worried about them.

And there’s a kind of shared grudge against having to wash our hands all the time.

We know we should. But we seem to be in denial. Even the fussiest of us kicks at always charging off to the washroom every five minutes.

Sloppy hygiene

Fact is, our hygiene habits are so sloppy, it’s a wonder we’re not sick more of the time.

Which straight away shows how easily food poisoning happens.

And how easy it is to avoid.

Wash Hands LogoWash hands, use an antibacterial gel, use antibacterial wipes – whatever. It’s better than being ill. Better than the pain and discomfort of the cramps. Better than the indignity of vomiting and diarrhoea.

OK, we’re lazy, but norovirus is not a bug to play games with. In the US, around 20 million people come down with it every year – 10% of all Americans. 400,000 of them wind up in A&E and 800 actually die.

All because we’re afraid of soap and water?

That doesn’t wash, does it? If it’s so easy to be safe, why the heck aren’t we?

And if we backed up washing hands with a Hypersteriliser, we’d be even safer.

It makes rooms sterile by destroying all viruses and bacteria – oxidising them to nothing with hydrogen peroxide plasma.

OK, you can start eating again.

With your hands clean and the germs gone, you know you can safely enjoy it.

Originally posted 2015-09-29 13:44:16.

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!

Originally posted 2015-05-29 22:22:22.

Camp chicken, ooh – the runs that could kill you

Girl with tummy cramps
You wash your hands,
you wash the chicken for
dinner, why is this happening?

You don’t want to play with this one.

It’s our No 1 cause of food poisoning and you get it from bacteria in raw chicken.

“Campylobacter” is not easy to say.

It’s not easy to stomach either. A week of cramps and diarrhoea are the norm – you can even die from it.

And it’s so potent, ONE DROP of water or juice from a raw chicken is enough to infect someone.

Hurry up and wait

Thing is, nobody’s doing anything about it – basically just running round like chickens with their heads chopped off.

Banging the drum are the Food Standards Agency, who quite rightly alert us to how dangerous campylobacter is and the dangers of handling raw chicken. Their tips and hints for playing safe are first-class and should keep anyone out of trouble.

At the same time they are blaming the supermarkets, moaning that the big chains are doing little or nothing to stop campylobacter occurring in the product they sell.

Uh huh. A hello birdie moment for the FSA, because realistically there’s not a lot supermarkets can do to pressure their suppliers.

Because there’s not much the growers can do either.

Natural in birds

The facts of life are that the campylobacter bacterium is NOT pathogenic in birds. It lives in them quite naturally and they are not affected. It’s a normal condition, like human beings have dandruff.

Which means around 70% of all commercially reared chickens are probably positive for it – enough to bankrupt the industry if forced to destroy them.

Besides, imagine the problems of isolating a flock of unaffected birds.

Tighten up biosecurity, yes. But one drop of moisture – one waft of wind-borne campylobacter molecules – would be enough to contaminate the whole lot. A near impossible task to an industry that has to supply up to 2.2 million birds a week.

Stop campylobacter in chickens?

Get real.

If such a major chunk of birds are affected, the FSA should either ban them outright or wish for the moon.

The real issue

Because for safety’s sake, it has to be assumed that ALL birds have it.

A total switcheroo on the problem.

Because then, it’s not the breeding of birds that’s the issue.

It’s the hygiene standards of how they’re prepared for market. Exactly where the FSA has the high ground and the muscle.

So why aren’t THEY doing something about it?

Step one would be to enforce that chicken may only be distributed in leak-proof packaging. Any fluid or moisture in the product would be contained and unable to contaminate fridges or storage areas in the supply chain.

Step two is for the FSA warnings to get some teeth. Boldly displayed on all chicken packaging, together with advice about handling raw product, avoiding exposure, and the hazards of cross-contamination.

If we’re that worried about it, the technology probably even exists for a low-cost audio-tag to sound a buzzer or recorded voice warning as soon as the packaging is opened. On a volume of 2.2 million chickens a week, it is certainly possible to develop one.

A solvable problem

And there you have it, campylobacter contained.

Properly warned, the public will know how to handle chicken properly and the problem goes away.

Nobody gets hammered, everybody’s happy, and tummy cramps from barbecuing drumsticks just don’t happen.

Come on FSA, how about it?

Originally posted 2015-04-27 12:21:44.