It’s been nearly 30 years since Edwina Currie, MP and Junior Health Minister made a bold claim that caused a massive slump in the sale of eggs and incurred the wrath of poultry farmers up and down the land. In 1988, ‘Eggwina’, as she has been known, stated that most of the egg production in the UK was infected with salmonella. She was forced to resign after a huge backlash but her assertions were subsequently found to have some truth in them. Since then, poultry farmers have made great strides in hygiene and a salmonella vaccine for hens which was first rolled out in 1998 has all but eradicated salmonella in eggs in the UK and, just this month, it was reported that British eggs with the red ‘lion stamp’ are now safe to be eaten runny or soft boiled. There is a greater risk in imported eggs. But what is salmonella and is it just found in eggs?
Salmonella is bacteria first discovered in pigs in the late 19th century and it can cause sickness in humans; symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, fever and stomach cramps. It is found in the intestines of animals, birds and people. If the faeces of an infected animal or bird makes its way onto food during the production process, it can result in the food borne illness, salmonella poisoning, for the consumer. It is mostly found in raw meat products, poultry and poultry products. Occasionally, it can be found in seafood and fruit and vegetables but this would only be because the water it is fished from or washed in is contaminated, so this is very unlikely.
It is not just fresh products that can be affected and, even with the strictest procedures in place on production lines and the best will in the world, there are still some that slip through the net. It was only in June this year that Mars recalled some of its Galaxy bars, Minstrels and Maltesers from the shelves in the UK and Ireland over salmonella contamination fears. The Mars company emphasised that it was only a precautionary measure and it should be stressed that this is a highly unusual and rare case.
Salmonella poisoning makes no exceptions and anybody can catch it, although it is rarely life threatening. It is highly infectious and can be passed from person to person and can last for over a week in particularly bad cases. If you are unfortunate enough to contract salmonella poisoning you should stay away from work and from others for two full days after the last showing of any symptom. The best option is, of course, to avoid getting it altogether and there are a few basic, common sense measures you can take:
• Always wash your hands before and after preparing raw meat and poultry
• Always cook meat thoroughly so that it is piping hot throughout (if you have a probe thermometer, check the meat is cooked to at least 75◦C at its thickest point)
• Always store cooked and raw foods separately and ensure there is no risk of seepage onto other food items
• Always wash your hands thoroughly after preparing raw meat and poultry and going to the toilet, – especially public toilets
These are simple and easy measures to put in place but they could make all the difference. For your health’s sake, and the health of others around you, it’s worth the extra effort.