All about that bug

Campylobacter is a nasty little bug and a very common cause of the old ‘hubble bubble, toilet trouble’ as spoken of in the Scottish play. Mostly it’s three days of total emptiness but it can last much longer. You’ll feel like you must have really, really annoyed a professional drain cleaner at some point. Occasionally it can lead to paralysis or death.

It’s more dangerous than Salmonella because Salmonella is on the inner and outer surfaces of the chicken and easily killed by cooking. Campylobacter is also easily killed by cooking but it’s invasive. It’s inside the meat. Just taking the surface above 80 deg C will render a chicken Salmonella-free but to be sure of getting rid of Campylobacter, every cubic centimetre of that meat must exceed 80 deg C right through the whole thing.

And yet… and yet the supermarkets do not put it in chickens. The Food Standards Agency seem to think they do, that supermarkets are responsible for contaminating chickens with this beastly little bacterium. Trust me on this: at no point in the processing or supply chain is anyone adding a pinch of bacteria to those chickens.

The truth about Campylobacter is… nobody is really sure how it gets into chickens and chicken-farms are putting a lot of effort into stopping it.

All chicks hatch out Campylobacter-free. It first appears in them at around three weeks of age. There are theories as to why, but no certainty of where it comes from. Chicken farms already use a vaccine against Salmonella, delivered through drinking water, but no such vaccine yet exists for Campylobacter.

It’s in the chickens as they grow and so far, there is not a damn thing anyone can do about it. Many people are trying though, and trying very hard.

That ‘name and shame’ is a farce. It’s a snapshot. There will be considerable variability in the chicken supplied to every shop and sometimes, someone will get a more heavily infected batch.

Shops cannot test every single bird. Would you accept a chicken with a hole in it where the test sample was cut out? Even then it’s just a sample. Not the whole bird. The contaminant is not necessarily evenly spread.

The Food Standards Agency should know and understand all this,. It’s simple, basic microbiology. That they evidently understand none of it is a damning indictment indeed.

Not on supermarkets. On the parlous state of modern science.


40 thoughts on “All about that bug

  1. It’s the same story as tobacco, isn’t it? Find a big, easy target to blame – in this case, supermarkets. What can these over-grown corner shops do? All they can do is pressure their suppliers, who themselves do not actually ‘grow’ the chickens. A classic case of buck passing and getting someone else to do all the work and pay the costs.
    Again, we see the Zealots getting a free ride, making money for themselves by exaggerating the risks and passing their costs onto someone else.
    When will our new Glorious Government wake up and defund all these leaches?


  2. OK, here’s a little test for you, oh Expert of all Things Gut-Related! What lurks about in fish that gives one the one heaaaave-ho? I was up six times last night chucking yesterday’s dinner down the loo – from both ends (sorry to be graphic, but I guess you’re used to it ….!) I’ve had this three, possibly four, times now, after eating fish (which I usually love and can usually eat perfectly well). I think I’ve tracked it down to a white fish imported from South East Asia, used, I suspect, as a cheap substitute for cod (the first time was fish ‘n chips from a shop, the next two times were from an Indian take-away and the last time it was home-cooked).

    This was confirmed to me when, this morning, my OH asked how I was feeling (which was “better, but not 100%”), and then wondered what it was that had made me so sick. My reply was: “Probably the fish – where was it from?” He replied by telling me the supermarket he’d where he’d bought it. “No,” I said. “Where was the fish originally from – was it from abroad?” He said he didn’t think so, because it had one of those little Union Jack symbols on it (he’s very patriotic like that, is my chap!). But he duly went and retrieved the packaging from the bin and – well, well, well – it was packaged in the UK, but fish was originally from …… Vietnam. Named as “River Cobbler,” the supermarket had very considerately put the latin name (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) on the pack, too, although a quick check on Wikipedia indicates that the Latin name should actually be Pangasius bocourti. But whichever is the correct name, there are various horror stories (usually written off by “experts” as scare stories put about by domestic fishermen, fearful of competition), that these fish are raised in pretty-much slurry-pit conditions and absorb all sorts of nasties before being fished out and killed for cooking, and although pacifying noises have been made (mostly by those authorities who have allowed the fish to be imported and sold for human consumption – well, they would, wouldn’t they), intimating that they are perfectly safe, that certainly isn’t the case for me.

    Each time the nastiness has only lasted 24 hours or so, so it clearly isn’t anything serious, but I just wondered if you’d ever come across fishy-bugs in your work as well as meaty-ones. It would be nice to know exactly which little blighter kept me up all night!


    • Sounds like a virus, and if they are raised in shitty water it probably is.

      I’ve had that squirty-bottom effect from chip shop fish before and now tend to order chicken instead. I check the labels when buying fish now or buy recognisable ones from a fishmonger 😉

      There’s a lot of crap food around these days.


  3. I’ve followed your advise and make sure that meat and chicken are cooked to the right degree. I bought a wee temp gauge probe (oh errrr Mrs) thingy which was pretty good but died. Wifely bought a new one yesterday which is either an “M” product or a “Man from UNCLE” one. Small but accurate (I hope). 80C is my mantra.

    If there is any nonsense regarding squirty bottom activity I will immediately bring this to your attention, in much detail as is the requirements for such topics on your blog.

    I do so enjoy your wee scientific blogs. Also glad that you have found your “other half” so to speak. If things go well for you both you may want to consider adding a new topic heading to your list of current topics. Just a simple easy topic. How to understand women using the scientific method. I have failed on this so far although it may be a hope too far for men in general.

    I’ll away then and settle down to watch strange American gentlemen huddle about fixing cars on cable TV in peace for half an hour as pre-mentioned wife has left for work. She runs a school for, mainly boys who are on the autistic spectrum. I may request a place there next year and sit about talking about bizarre topics in incredibly fine detail, whilst never mentioning ladies.


    • “How to understand women using the scientific method..”

      There’s a logical impossibility and no mistake. Being a very married male I would hardly designate any hypothesis on this subject as ‘easy’ unless you apply the following mantra;

      Women have so many faults,
      We men have only two
      Everything we try to say
      And everything we do.


  4. “sit about talking about bizarre topics in incredibly fine detail, whilst never mentioning ladies.”

    Sounds like the average British Pub…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Walnuts have the same effect on me. Twice now, and I’m not chancing a third time. Or any other Tree Nuts for that matter. This is such a pity because I like nuts. But having wished I was dead the last time, it just isn’t worth the risk.


  6. Hmm. Sudden, and spontaneously developed allergies.

    I had NO problem with Squid, until a few years ago. Now I can hardly TOUCH the bastards, without the Vesuvius at both ends syndrom.

    Either, it is a late development allergy, OR, they are doing something chemicaly terrible to squid, that they never did before.

    IS there such a thing as “late onset allergy?”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Now this is why I visit this fine establishment. For the high-brow topics and gentile conversation.

    As both ex-military and an ex-nurse I can honestly say I’ve never (temping fate?) had the pleasure (from whatever cause) of experiencing the … er, experience (?) so eloquently described by so many here.

    Maybe the decades of living and eating in unsanitary conditions (I meant all the foreign climes and local delicacies I sampled, almost anything is better than rations, rather than the officers mess – but that too considering some of the stewards I saw) followed by years in A&E and medical wards being exposed to who knows what has given my immune system the chance to become resistant to all known human pathogens (and remembering some of the stewards, possible a number of non-human ones too).

    Of course it may have been my sensible hygiene precautions (what others have described as complete germaphobic paranoia) or (the rather hurtful suggestion) that years of eating my own cooking (it’s not my fault I prefer everything brown and crispy – although getting pasta that way takes some effort and skill) has led to a digestive tract that could cope with the entire contents of Porton Down and the CDC at Atlanta’s fridges and not even notice.

    I’m not really contributing much to the debate, just feeling unusually smug for a change ;-p

    Liked by 1 person

    • XX (it’s not my fault I prefer everything brown and crispy – although getting pasta that way takes some effort and skill) XX

      When I make soup, the best way to cook it, is in the frying pan. It comes out like a barly and vegetable pancake, with crunchy bits in the middle that are a danger to any remaining tooth fillings. This was particularly so, when I lived in Glencoe, and used to collect sea weed to add to it. Those small shells are a BASTARD when you bite down on them.

      But, OFFICIALY, it IS soup! (Because I said so. 😀 )


      • I would like to say “Ah, someone after my own heart” but I can’t because as any cordon bleu chef (‘like what I is’ – at least in my own head) knows, soup is to be cooked in a saucepan, milk-pan or, preferably a tin mug, stirring all the while (until you unavoidably get called away and/or distracted/bored) until the spoon will stand up in the middle unaided. The result ‘is’ actually quite tasty (Heinz tomato becomes almost marmite like, although slightly more … crunchy) when spread on crackers or bread.

        I have always followed the general meme of strictly following recipes – unless I don’t have all the ingredients, at which point I feel substituting ingredients either ‘beginning with the same letter’, or ‘of the same general colour’, is acceptable. I’d invite you to sample my cabbage and lime guacamole but I’m banned from making it again (I do have some left, a bit was used, rather successfully, to glue the leg back on the chair that my taste-tester attempted to ‘express his gratitude to me’ with. Some people just don’t appreciate ‘good home cooking’).

        (In case you were wondering, I ‘am’ still waiting for some credit, and a rather large royalty cheque, from that Heston fella for ‘borrowing’ some of my more staid squaddy/student recipes).

        Liked by 2 people

        • Ahhh! Camp fire cooking! The best overall.

          No one MINDS what you throw into it.

          And I always miss field cooking in the army. Beef (Well, that is what it said on the packet….) and gravy, mixed into the mess tin with ruhbab crumble and custard, and if time was short, you could even mix your mug of tea in as well. Prbably explains why it was called a MESS tin.

          GREAT times! 😀


          • You almost had me missing it there for a while, so much so I felt the urge for some spam, bovril and custard.

            You know there must be a restaurant that caters for (decrepit) old squaddies who wish to reminisce. If not we should start one up. We’ll share the cooking, furniture isn’t a problem as we’ll only have to offer the choice of ‘served standing knee/elbow or neck-deep in scummy water in a ditch’ or ‘sitting on pointed rocks under a poncho/tarp under a sprinkler/fire-hose’ (a personal favourite as it always required gulping the food down since the mess-tin just never seemed to empty – although after a while it was a little … dilute). We could take turns throwing sharp, pointy objects, flash-bangs (and for those wanting the real authentic experience – firing AK-74’s, SKS’s or the odd M-16/4 or ma-deuce, look it’s guaranteed in whatever theatre they served they ‘will’ have experienced ‘friendly fire’ from a bunch of Yanks too) at the customers (see, there are perks of the job too). For the ex-armoured types we could feed them squashed into a wheelie-bin and just arrange for it to be bounced up a cobbled hill road whilst being hit repeatedly with a big stick.


  8. The FSA is in denial. They got such a pounding over horse meat. I think more so than the Supermarkets did, which is unfair as some of them actually have labs. They have to blame someone, so it’s the processing abattoir or the supermarket. Actually, I blame the chicken for being susceptible. Avian dinosaurs getting their own back. That said, I try to buy free range chickens and really cook them well, unlike these bloody TV chefs who serve chicken and other fowl bright pink.


  9. I recently bought a microscope, a Breeder with 600x. The first thing I put on a slide was from underneath the bathroom sink plug. And blimey, there were paramecium ? Maybe, that’s what I remember from A level biology, and something with a cilia. Of course, the next thing that went under the lens had lots of single celled creatures with wriggly cilia (I think that’s what a long whip-like taily thing is called)


  10. I cook all meat to within an inch of it’s life. As for white meat in particular, all this shite about it being moist? Not me, I cook it until it is truly dead.


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