Edwin Chadwick – a man to whom much is owed!

In Britain today, we enjoy a high standard of living compared to times past.  Our hygiene regulations are strict, meaning cases of food borne illness and diseases are relatively rare, and our sanitation systems are extremely efficient and well controlled.  However, it wasn’t always like this and that is down to a few individuals in history who campaigned tirelessly for social reform.

Edwin Chadwick was one of those tireless campaigners.  He was born near Manchester in 1800 and lived in the North until moving to London in 1810.  It was a time in the history of this nation when industry and manufacturing were booming and jobs for factory workers were plentiful.   People would move in droves to towns where factories were hiring and business owners would provide housing for their employees but, it was housing that was cheap and which had very poor or no sanitation.  It was also a time when there were serious health epidemics, some of the most notable being the first great cholera epidemic in 1830-31 and typhoid epidemics in big cities in 1837 and 1838.

During this time, Edwin Chadwick had studied the law and had worked his way by merit into an advisory role within government.  He had inherited his father’s journalistic skills and was highly regarded as a researcher and writer.  Chadwick was commissioned to assist with the enquiry into the Poor Laws in 1832 and it was through his research that he started to uncover the link between poor sanitation and low life expectancy.

In 1842, he published what was arguably the most important work of his career, The Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population in Great Britain.   This report showed, through careful research and substantiated examples, that there was a direct correlation between the poor living conditions and sanitation of the working population and their short life expectancy and susceptibility to disease.

Chadwick had proved something that was undeniable and started something that was unstoppable.  His report led the way for the Public Health Act of 1948 and set off a shift in thinking that the government had a responsibility in ensuring suitable sanitation systems for all.  He was appointed as Commissioner for the Board of Health which set out to start implementing some of the recommendations of Chadwick’s report.

This was just the beginning of understanding how disease spread and the need for effective sanitation.  Chadwick himself subscribed to the miasma theory, which supposed that disease was spread through bad smells in the air.  At the time, this was widely believed to be the cause, although the germ theory quickly became the accepted position in the mid-1800s as understanding increased.  The measures Chadwick proposed and applied, although he held to the miasma theory, undoubtedly contributed to the improvement of living conditions.  Removing the bad smells would often mean that the bacteria, the actual cause of disease, were also removed, thus providing a cleaner and more sanitised living environment.

Chadwick had some unpopular political views on public health and centralised administration and, ultimately, this led to him being removed from the Board of Public Health but he continued to campaign for cleaner living conditions and for separate pipes for clean water and sewage removal in every household.  His conviction was so strong that he even left £47,000 in his will for the purpose of further advances in sanitation and education of the population in such matters.

Chadwick always held to the miasma theory and was viewed by some as difficult and arrogant but his place in history is secure and it seems the tide of negative opinion towards him changed as he was awarded a knighthood in 1889 for his services to public health, just one year before he died.

Whether it is true that he was arrogant or difficult, he is truly a man to whom much is owed.  His research and unstinting belief in the importance of improving sanitation is what first set us on the road to the high standard of living conditions we currently enjoy.  The degree of knowledge about the spread of disease and contamination that we now know is due in no small part to this man, Edwin Chadwick, who started a revolution in public health and understanding that continues to this day.

Make sure your Summer al fresco celebration doesn’t end inside…with food poisoning!

Spring has had its day and we’ve passed the first official day of summer, the solstice of 21st June, and with that milestone comes the season for al fresco eating, so beloved by the British people. Picnic baskets will have been dusted off and plastic plates and mugs dug out from the back of the cupboard.

It is worth mentioning that cases of food poisoning in the UK rise significantly over the summer months! Most people love a good picnic but, away from our fridges and freezers and clean running water, it’s wise to be extra mindful of food safety risks and helpful to have some guidelines to follow to get the most out of your al fresco dining experience.

When you’re getting ready – the first steps:

• When preparing the food at home, make sure usual hygiene procedures are followed; wash your hands, keep cooked and raw meat separate to avoid cross contamination and pack the food up separately in airtight containers or keep individual items covered in foil or clingfilm

• If it’s the first time you’re venturing out this summer, give all those implements and containers that have been lurking in the dark corners of your cupboards a thorough clean

When you’re ready to pack up and go:

• Use a cool bag for cold items: a good cool bag lined with ice blocks or frozen gel packs will keep your food cool for a good 2-3 hours. Keeping the food at a low temperature, similar to that of your fridge at home (5°C), will prevent any bacteria from multiplying. It’s best to leave packing the cool bag until just before leaving home so that the food is stored straight from the fridge and is as cold as possible.

• Like you would when stacking your fridge at home, keep any raw meat that you might intend to cook completely separate from other food and place it at the bottom of the cool bag so that there is no danger of any leakage onto other foods.

• Make sure all items are separately contained or wrapped so that you avoid cross contamination.

• If you’re really pushing the boat out and taking hot food, the safest way to transport it is in a thermos box to ensure it retains its temperature. Hot food should be held above 63°C.

• Keep the cool bag in the coolest place possible when in transit, somewhere shady away from the glare of the sun.

When you’re ready to serve up and eat:

• Clean or wash your hands. If there’s a facility for washing, great, but if not, take some anti-bacterial gel with you to ensure you rid your hands of any bacteria you might have picked up running your hands through long grass or making sandcastles.

• Only serve up what you’re intending to eat. Keep the rest in the cool bag until you’re ready for it. In hot weather, food should not be left out for more than a maximum of one hour.

• Keep raw foods and cooked/ready to eat foods strictly separate.

• Make sure you cook any raw meat thoroughly, until the juices run clear and there is no pink left. Use a clean knife to cut into the meat to check the colour and juices if you need to.

• Keep any cooking utensils or implements used in preparing food separate and wrapped up to prevent any bugs or animals touching them and contaminating them.

• Avoid putting food onto unclean surfaces such as the ground, picnic tables etc. Bring plates or even a tablecloth from home if you can.

When you’re ready to come home:

• If the ice packs in the cool bag are still cold and there is leftover food, it should be fine to take home, refrigerate and re-use, – provided it has not been left out but the safest rule is; if in doubt, chuck it out!

Most of all, enjoy it while it lasts and make the most of the sunshine whenever you can because, in this country, you never know when you’ll see it again!