How to Avoid Getting VERY Sick from Chicken

by on November 27, 2015

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It’s possible to avoid getting very sick from chicken by following a few simple measures.

The bug which will easily make you sick is called campylobacter. It is found in animal faeces. Although it can affect red meat and unclean water, four of out five cases of campylobacter originate in poultry – mainly chicken.

(And, after you read this article, you’ll wonder how many others come from butchers handling chicken, then handling other meat without proper hygiene – either new gloves, or washing their hands…)

As you see from the chart, major UK retailers vary in how when measuring who has significant amounts of campylobacter contamination (figures from 2015). And the level of chicken which has any sign at all of contamination is much higher, at around 60-70%.

The problem is very real: and the chances of you becoming one of the 280,000 victims a year, and suffering stomach pains and diarrhoea for 2-3 days is high.

In fact, campylobacter infection is the commonest cause of food poisoning, by far exceeding cases of e coli or salmonella.

How dangerous is it?

Just how dangerous is campylobacter? Well, you can die of it: and around 100 people do – admittedly mainly the elderly, but also the very young. It’s still a risk. And 3 days of guts ache and sickness is not pleasant.

And the reason campylobacter is so widespread is simply because of factory farming methods.

The two main reasons are chickens being transported in crates, and the washing process prior to plucking.

Chickens in crates

chicken-on-lorry-250

Millions of chickens are produced every year and, for maximum efficiency, both stuffed into mesh crates for transporting. These are typically stacked ten high on lorries and then transported to the abattoir. So the cargo may be in a lorry for a few hours or even, exceptionally, overnight.

All this time they are performing their natural functions including bowel movements which obviously drip through the holes in the mesh onto the heads of the chickens on the lower levels.

Washing Chickens in Filthy Water

Next source of contamination, to make it easier to pluck the feathers out, having been slaughtered, chickens are dunked into very hot water in what’s called a “scald tank”.

As previously discussed, these chickens will already be covered in faecal matter from their higher up compatriots from the transporting lorries.

As soon as a few chicken carcasses have been “scalded” the water will be contaminated with faeces.

By the time a couple of dozen chickens have been dipped in the same water you can be sure that every chicken thereafter, if it’s not already infected, will become so.

Other Contamination

On top of this contamination from the scalding tank, you are relying on high-quality staff always following the rules.

Of course, some of these may well be under pressure by their employers to do the job quickly and not to waste food which could be sold.

One of these rules is that if a chicken dropped on the floor you need to discard it.

There is YouTube footage grabbed by a Guardian reporter showing one hapless employee picking up a chicken from the floor and putting it into a bin to be processed for food.

from-floor-to-plate

How to Avoid an Infection

Well, you might think a good way to avoid infection is by eating free range or organic chicken.

Not so.

Unfortunately, most free range and organic meat is killed in the same abattoirs as the majority of chickens.

But if you do your research there are a small quantity of chicken producers who slaughter the animals on their own farm and which don’t use the scalding techniques which spread infection so easily.

One of these is:

Sheepdrove Farm, Berkshire, who deliver countrywide.

And it looks like these two are the same, but you might want to check. In one case, the shopping cart is not so good, by the way: and in the other, you have to collect.

Otter Valley Poultry, Devon

Laverstoke Park Farm, Hampshire

If you don’t want to do this, or perhaps you don’t want to pay the higher prices, then there are a few simple rules you can follow to avoid infections.

  1. Store chicken in an extra layer of plastic
  2. Wash hands in hot soapy water for 20 seconds
  3. Store marinading chicken in the fridge
  4. Never wash chicken

Store chicken in an extra layer of plastic

Between five and 10% of all chicken packaging is contaminated with campylobacter. So whenever you put chicken in the fridge make sure it’s wrapped in an additional layer of plastic – for example, a plastic carrier bag.

Wash hands in hot soapy water for 20 seconds

It’s very easy to transfer campylobacter to another person or another surface – such as a tap or a door handle. A very , very few campylobacter organisms will cause an infection as they multiply extremely quickly.

So after touching raw chicken be meticulous about washing your hands with hot soapy water – and do it for long enough.

Store marinading chicken in the fridge

As I said, this bacteria multiplies extremely quickly.

So if you are marinating chicken don’t make the mistake of leaving it out of the fridge once you have added it to the marinade – keep it back in there until you are ready to cook it.

Never wash chicken

This piece of advice is always given now. And the reason is that when you are washing chicken you’re bound to splash a bit.

Anything the splash touches can easily be infected with a very few campylobacter organisms. And as we know these multiply quickly.

If you follow these few simple rules in your own kitchen you will be very safe from campylobacter infection.

And you just have to hope that everyone in the kitchens of restaurants you visit is doing the same.

Be careful and make sure you are following these simple, but common sense rules in your household, and you will reduce the chances dramatically of getting very sick from chicken – at least in your own house.

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