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Poor Home Hygiene Blamed for Rising Food Poisoning

by 5m Editor
28 March 2012, at 8:34am

UK - Sloppy food hygiene at home has been blamed for an worrying increase in cases of campylobacter food poisoning.

According to WalesOnline.co.uk, experts have spoken of the “enormous problems” caused by campylobacter, which could be responsible for gastrointestinal illnesses in as many as one in 100 people in Wales every year.

Carried by chickens, it is thought large numbers of raw chickens sold in supermarkets are infected with campylobacter, which can be spread to other foods in the kitchen via cross-contamination.

Tom Humphrey, a professorial fellow in food fafety at the University of Liverpool, said: “Campylobacter doesn’t need any exaggerating; we don’t need to big up its importance. My daughter got it when she was seven and lost 7kg in two days. She was passing nothing but blood.

“Campylobacter used to be quite rare in the elderly but now this is the most common group to get campylobacter and in such people, particularly those with cancer, death can be horrible – around 100 people a year are dying from campylobacter.”

Official figures show there were 700,000 cases of campylobacter illnesses in the UK in 2010; the latest figures for Wales show there are some 3,000 a year but it is thought for every one reported case, a further 10 go unreported.

There has been a marked increase in the number of cases of campylobacter since the start of the 21st century compared to the 1990s – levels today are similar to those during the peak in the early 2000s.

Dr Meirion Evans, a regional epidemiologist at Public Health Wales, said: “It is very prevalent in poultry, much more so than salmonella for which we can vaccinate against.

“Campylobacter remains a major problem and there’s a fair likelihood the average raw chicken you buy from the supermarket may have campylobacter present on it.

“The importance, therefore, is very much on the careful handling of poultry.

“Studies have found campylobacter on domestic dishcloths, which is symptomatic of what is happening in the kitchen. We tend to take things for granted and can be a bit sloppy when it comes to food hygiene at home.”

Although most people who contract campylobacter will recover, it is associated with a range of side-effects, including Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis, and ongoing irritable bowel syndrome.

Speaking at the start of the Society for General Microbiology’s spring conference in Dublin yesterday(MON), Prof Humphrey said: “All cows have campylobacter and all milk will have cow poo in it, if you don’t heat it, there’s a risk of campylobacter.

“If you drink contaminated water you may get campylobacter because it’s very common in the natural environment.

“Kittens and puppies can get diarrhoea caused by campylobacter and, particularly for young children, being in contact with that is a risk factor.

“But overwhelmingly, the biggest factor is the consumption of under-cooked chicken – this makes up between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of cases.”

He added that intervention on the farm is the key to controlling campylobacter in chickens.

But Professor Mark Stevens, from The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, said: “The solution is not as simple as throwing antibiotics at the problem because the continuing use of antibiotics in food-producing animals is prohibited in part because of concern about the development of transmissible antibiotic resistance that could blunt the effectiveness of medicines in humans.

“Although we have some vaccines for the control of this organisms, at the moment there’s no licensed vaccine for the control of campylobacter."