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.
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.