Protecting Your Customers from Campylobacter
Food poisoning is a major cause of concern in the UK. When bacteria, viruses or parasites are present in food, they cause diarrhoea, vomiting and other serious illnesses that can sometimes turn out to be fatal. Currently the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK is that of Campylobacter; and is therefore a very real cause for concern. It’s currently estimated that Campylobacter causes around 100 fatalities each year and is believed to cost the UK economy a whopping £900 Million! The Food Standards Agency (FSA) have estimated that around 28,000 people in the UK fell ill to Campylobacter in 2014.
The Campylobacter bacteria is particularly prevalent in raw meat, especially in raw poultry; not surprisingly there have been a number of cases in which poultry farms have been identified as being the source of a food poisoning outbreak. Research shows that almost 65% of chicken sold in UK’s butcheries and supermarkets are contaminated with Campylobacter. This has been such a huge problem that the Food Standards Agency were driven to order new tests to be conducted on UK farms.
Contamination usually occurs when chicken are reared in cramped conditions. Some poultry farmers will do this in order to maximize production, but this intense farming method actually enhances the spread of bacteria from flock to flock. A single infected bird can infect the entire flock, so farmers need to be very diligent and act immediately it is identified.
Whilst the bacteria rarely cause symptoms in animals, it can prove seriously detrimental to human health once consumed; therefore animal health is absolutely foundational to food safety in humans.
There are some measures that can be taken to make chicken less vulnerable to Campylobacter. However, most farmers are unable to conduct a thorough enough cleaning programme because of the associated costs which would inevitably have to be passed on to an increasingly price sensitive consumer, who has become used to cheap chicken.
Who is at risk of Campylobacter? Put simply; all of your customers are! But especially those whose immune systems are weaker, or impaired. These include young children, pregnant women, the elderly, those who are convalescing after an illness.
In the Kitchen: Practical ways to protect your customers from Campylobacter.
One really important control measure is to be sure only to purchase poultry from reputable and approved suppliers. Once Poultry has been delivered, ensure that it is stored correctly; covered and placed in a deep container in the bottom of the refrigerator. By doing this, you will significantly reduce the risk of blood or juices dripping onto high-risk, ready-to-eat foods. However, it is best practice to have a separate fridge solely for the storage of raw meat and poultry. The same levels of segregation apply to frozen poultry.
Prior to cooking, it’s vital that poultry is not washed – as this can spread the bacteria around the kitchen by splashing! When dealing with frozen poultry, always plan ahead, and ensure that it is fully defrosted before cooking. When defrosting poultry, or any raw meat for that matter, it’s always best to thaw in the refrigerator 24 hours before it’s required.
During preparation, it’s essential that you thoroughly clean and disinfect all work surfaces, chopping boards and utensils ‘as you go’. Cleaning is absolutely fundamental to food safety, as is frequent and effective hand washing, but especially after handling raw poultry.
Most of the bacteria present in raw foods, can be eliminated by thorough and effective cooking, the same applies to Campylobacter. Making sure that chicken and other poultry is properly cooked before consumption will help to eliminate Campylobacter in raw meat.