What is Clostridium Botulinum?

Clostridium Botulinum

For those of us born before the technological age, our childhoods would probably have involved playing outside for much of the time, making our own entertainment.  For many, playing in the mud and dirt was a great pastime.  You might be one of those that made mud pies and got absolutely filthy, to the despair of your parents.  Some children actually proceeded to tuck into said mud pies but have turned out just fine.  Little did we know, however, that something pretty sinister was lurking in the very same soil from which we were making our mud pies.

Sources, Causes and Symptoms

Clostridium botulinum is bacteria which is present in untreated water, soil and dust all over the world and can also be found on a number of food items, for example, anything which has been grown in soil may have had contact with the bacteria.  The bacteria in its natural state is not harmful but, as an ‘obligate anaerobe’, if it is deprived of oxygen, its spores start to produce toxins which can, in very rare cases, be fatal.  It is no exaggeration to say that it is probably the most dangerous of food borne illnesses that can be contracted.  The toxins attack the nervous system, disabling the neurotransmitters which carry instructions from the brain to our muscles, thus causing paralysis.  Symptoms include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, double vision, drooping eyelids and paralysis amongst others.  It can be treated with antitoxins which prevent the toxins from travelling round the body so an immediate visit to the doctor or hospital is absolutely imperative.

Foodborne botulism is generally contracted from canned foods which have not been processed correctly at source.  In food in canned form, the bacteria are deprived of oxygen and toxins develop so that, when consumed, the illness strikes.  In the UK, hygiene regulations are very strict so food being processed incorrectly is a real rarity.  Canned food is subject to intense heating and sterilisation processes which should eradicate any risk.

Clostridium Botulinum in Children

Infant botulism is the most frequent form of the illness and occurs mostly in babies under the age of 6 months, although it tends to occur through botulinum spores releasing the toxins once ingested, rather than pre-developed toxins in foods.  At this age, their bodies have not yet developed to deal with botulinum in bacteria form, as adults’ immune systems have.  For adults, it is the pre-developed toxins that pose the risk.

Controls

It should be noted that cases of botulism are very scarce but there are measures you can take to ensure avoiding contact with these potentially deadly toxins.  Never eat food from a can which is bulging or leaking, or which shoots out unnaturally when being opened, as it could be contaminated.  Heat food which comes from cans properly.  The World Health Organisation states that, ‘the toxin produced by bacteria growing out of the spores under anaerobic conditions is destroyed by boiling (for example, at internal temperature greater than 85 °C for 5 minutes or longer)’.  Never give honey to children under 1 year old as this is a common cause of infant botulism.  If you are going to can food at home, make sure you find out how to do it properly so that you can follow the strictest hygiene procedures.  Always put leftover and cooked food in the refrigerator, as low temperatures help to prevent the formation of toxins.  Decant any leftovers from cans into other containers and refrigerate.  Simple measures which are easy to follow and which could make all the difference.

Botox

On a final note, it’s not all bad news.  The botulinum bacteria is the main ingredient used in botox, where the skin is effectively ‘paralysed’ to reduce the appearance of wrinkles so, for those who seek the elixir of youth, the botulinum bacteria is one of the finds of the modern age!

 

Campylobacter in chicken

Protecting Your Customers from Campylobacter

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.