Washing Chicken, Bugs and What You Need to Know about Campylobacter

If I asked you what makes you ill if you eat undercooked chicken, you might say salmonella. Or E.Coli. But campylobacter is a little less well known and it's something we should be keeping an eye on, too, according to the Food Standards Agency. 

Today, they launch a campaign to raise awareness of the bug, which is thought to be behind 280,000 cases of food poisoning a year - that's one case every 2-3 minutes. Yes, that's every two to three minutes. Startling, right?

I was invited to attend a Google Hangout hosted by the Food Standards Agency last week and we heard all about campylobacter and how you can help prevent infection. And you'll be pleased to know it's quite simple. 

We heard from Professor Sarah O' Brien, from the University of Liverpool, who told us that common symptoms of campylobacter infection include bloody diarrhea, weakness and stomach ache and added that in one case, a healthy man was put on a ventilator for seven weeks because of infection from the bacteria. "We don't think that when we have our Sunday lunch, three weeks later we could be paralysed," she says. Well, quite. In fact, last year 1,000 people with campylobacter infections needed hospital treatment.

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And although we think of salmonella as more common, it takes around 10,000 salmonella bugs to infect a person: for campylobacter you'd only need to eat 100 bugs to become infected. These stats are all quite frightening, aren't they? So how can you help prevent yourself and your lovely family and friends getting infected? Cue Sue Ashford. 

Food expert Sue talked about practicing good food hygiene. And, as 4 in every 5 cases of the bug are traced back to infected poultry, it's quite straightforward. 

For starters, don't wash chicken before you cook it.  Apparently 44% of people still give chicken a rinse under the tap before cooking, which doesn't make your chicken any cleaner but can cause splashing around your worktops, sink, taps and spread the bug about. Campylobacter can actually survive on those for a few hours, if not days - so you don't want to be doing that. 

Here are Sue's Top Tips on how to help prevent a Campylobacter infection this summer:

  • Don't wash chicken
  • Cook all poultry - that includes turkey, chicken, duck etc - thoroughly. Campylobacter (and other nasty) bugs will all die off and be rendered harmless. Check with a knife or skewer that no pinkness remains and then if it isn't cooked, wash up the knife or skewer.
  • Take an ice pack with you when you go shopping and pack meats separately from fruit, veg and salads.
  • Defrost meat and poultry on a plate at the bottom of the fridge (you don't want any raw juices trickling into your salad trays underneath). 
  • Wash hands thoroughly after touching all meat and poultry
  • Don't leave knives, boards and plates that have been in contact with raw poultry or meat hanging about - wash it up straight away. Don't wait for the dishwasher to get full - just wash it up immediately in hot, soapy water. 
For more information about the campaign, visit the FSA website