Much has been made of naming and shaming the supermarkets who sell chicken with bacteria on them. Well here’s an interesting fact.
Supermarkets and indeed all food sellers do not add bacteria to the food they sell. In fact they go to considerable lengths to make sure the food they sell does not come with added bacteria. As a food seller, nothing puts you out of business faster than a food poisoning outbreak traced back to you.
I have worked with both Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry so here is the real deal.
Salmonella is far less of a problem than it has been but once it was not a problem at all. There was a species of Salmonella that caused disease in chickens (but not in humans) and the veterinarians went to great lengths to get rid of it. It was a productivity issue. They succeeded but vets are not microbiologists.
Microbiologists understand the concept, in bacterial terms, of an ecological niche. Which means that if you take out one species from a complex population, something else is going to move in. This never fails. The one that moved in, Salmonella enteriditis, was harmless to chickens but it gives humans the power to shit through a sieve while the mesh catches nothing lumpy apart from maybe a kidney or a pancreas. Nasty but not often fatal.
Salmonella can get into chicken ovaries and into eggs. Not in huge numbers but it can do it. It needs to get into your gut in huge numbers to set up a fire-sale of watery poo because if it goes in as a small gang it gets beaten to death by the unashamedly racist bacteria who already live there. They don’t like immigrants in your gut. If you are a multiculti supporter you might want to take high doses of antibiotics to quell the BNP tendencies of your personal internal bacteria. Then you can welcome all comers.
If you are anti-racist then you absolutely must quell your internal racism. How else can you sleep at night? Five grams of peniciilin daily will save you.
Apart from the eggs, Salmonella on chickens is just surface contamination. Half-decent cooking wipes it out and old-style hygiene (washing hands and disinfecting surfaces) will ensure you never suffer the indiginity of becoming an upside-down slurry sprayer and have to clean pebbledash off the pan.
Also, there is now a successful live vaccine applied to chickens through drinking water that has pretty much eradicated the problem. It’s not completely gone but it’s much less of a thing to worry about.
Campylobacter is one of those bacteria that microbiology refers to in technical terms as a ‘bloody little bastard’.
It does not get into eggs but it does something Salmonella does not do. It gets into muscle. To kill this one you have to cook the chicken all the way through. Completely. None of this – ‘good enough, a bit pink but that won’t matter’ – yes, it does. This one can cause much more than just the squeaky-burny anus. Campylobacter is killed by cooking but cooking means getting the centre of the meat to at least 80C.
So where does it come from?
In scientific terms, to put it in the full jargon of centuries of scientific study… fuck knows.
It is not in the eggs. Chicks are never hatched with the infection in place.
It appears in chicks at around three weeks of age and when it does it spreads wider and faster than a Cardiff dock-tart’s legs.
How does it get in? Well, farms are not immune to rats and mice and sparrows and housemartins and so on, and cannot be made so. You cannot make a small house impervious to these creatures, what chance does a farmer with a huge barn have? Still, the actual source has not yet been found and you can bet all those potential sources have been tested. Short answer – we don’t know how or why it infects chicks at three weeks old. It just does.
There is currently a lot of research going on to try to smash this damn infection but it is all happening at farm level. It has nothing at all to do with supermarkets. They cannot control this, it is a farm-level problem and that is where the research is centred. We will win but it could take quite some time.
In the meantime, all you need is basic hygiene (wash hands, use disinfectant, don’t chop lettuce where you’ve just chopped raw meat) and cook chicken until the skin shatters when stuck with a fork.
Slit the leg-skin so the legs splay to let the heat in (okay, anyone thinking anything sexual at this point is officially disgusting). Don’t stuff the body cavity, cook stuffing separately. If you have a meat thermometer, use it. Cook the chicken breast-down so the breast meat doesn’t dry out and prick the skin all over to help it self-baste. Also baste.
Campylobacter is not some new thing. It is one of those diseases previously generically referred to as ‘the shits’. It is a problem for science because it is such an awkward little swine but it isn’t really that much of a problem for people who want to eat chicken.
Just do what Granny did. Cook the bugger until you can carve it with a sharp look and always wash your hands and work surfaces.
And stop trying to blame the sellers for selling you want you want to buy. If you manage to put the supermarkets out of business you’ll have to raise your own chickens. They will all get Campylobacter at three weeks old and will be riddled with Salmonella because you can’t afford the vaccine. You will know nothing about either of them because you can’t afford a microbiologist.
The ‘progressives’ would genuinely consider that an improvement.