The Revenge of the Poultry from Beyond the Gravy…

Salmonella and Campylobacter. Sigh. I have grown enough of these in a single experiment to bring down a medium sized city.

Oh it’s easy, when you use growth media designed to make them grow fast. It’s how we find them quickly when there’s an outbreak. It’s also how we test food before it goes on sale. Sometimes it’s in the supermarkets before the test is complete but we can recall it pretty fast.Heavy contamination will show up in 24 hours but it takes about 4 days to be certain it’s a negative.

We test for other things too but the big names in chicken and turkey and general poultry are Salmonella and Campylobacter.

At the end of the experiment, everything goes into a big pressure cooker called an autoclave. Fifteen minutes in there and there is no life anywhere inside it. It’s not magic, it’s exactly the same principle as a home pressure cooker, just scaled up so you can fit a disobedient technician into it. In the past, we actually used home pressure cookers in the lab as benchtop sterilisers for small amounts. of stuff. Now there are custom built benchtop ones. They do the same thing but they look more sciency and they have timers so they don’t go bang if you forget.

For these two nasties, all you need is to have the centre of the meat exceed 80 decrees C and they’re dead. Cook that chicken properly, don’t handle salad with chicken grease on your fingers and you’re fine. It’s only dangerous when it’s raw, or when you let it contaminate stuff you aren’t going to cook.

I’ve never had either infection despite my cavalier cooking methods and despite working with them (and other nasties I haven’t personally caught) for almost 40 years. They aren’t hard to kill.

They are, however, very hard to get rid of at source. For Salmonella, many UK poultry farms use a vaccine introduced via drinking water. It won’t wipe them out but it will reduce their numbers. On a bird carcass, Salmonella is mostly surface contamination. Inside surfaces too – it lives in the guts and can get into some internal organs. Still, that’s easy. As long as the surface is cooked, it’s dead.

Campylobacter is a little different. This one lives in the gut too but it can get into muscle tissue. It can be inside the meat. That’s the one you need to kill by cooking the chicken all the way through. Getting the centre of the meat past 80C is enough – you don’t need 200C in the centre. If you achieve that, you have a roast chicken that will shatter like glass when you try to carve it and will probably be about the size of a quail.

Minced/ground meat is a special problem. For any meat. If you have a beef steak you can flash-fry the outside and the inside can be pretty much raw. The only contamination is on the outside. Ostrich steaks are also best quick-cooked. Even though they are birds they don’t seem to suffer Campylobacter infections.

If you make steak mince, you have mixed the outside contamination all through the final product. It’s now internally contaminated and – as with sausages and burgers – you need it cooked right through.

So with poultry mince you will now have both Salmonella and Campylobacter all through the finished product. Nasty.

Not if you cook it thoroughly. It’s mince. If there are no pink bits left then all the bits are cooked and the nasties are dead. I admit, when making any dish with mince, I cook the mince completely before starting with any added sauces. I take no chances with high risk foods.

Should the mince be a no-risk food? That’s impossible. You can never be sure the processing plant is perfectly sterile even if the starting product is clear of pathogens. The processing plant is staffed by people and if you sterilise your staff in an autoclave their productivity will suffer and you might get nasty letters from their relatives. People carry diseases. It happens. Deal with it.

How do you deal with it? Cook it thoroughly and wash your hands after handling raw meats. Disinfect kitchen surfaces (the spray stuff is good enough, you don’t need a flamethrower) and wipe down with disposable paper towels, not a cloth. A contaminated cloth is a stupid thing to have in a kitchen.

That’s it. That’s really it. Poultry, mince, any raw meat is a risk but it’s an easily managed risk. Just do what your grandparents did. It worked for them and it’ll work for you.

Each year, the article says, 830,000 Americans get sick from eating contaminated poultry. There is no excuse for this. All it takes is a few simple things – proper cooking and kitchen hygiene.

You are not going to eradicate these bacteria at source. You’re dealing with living organisms and chickens are, it must be said, among the most disgusting of living things.

But they taste so good. Just cook them properly.

 

Mouldy old dough

I loved that song as a kid.

Anyway, this isn’t about singing. It’s about fungi. A group that includes both yeast and moulds.

Basically, yeast grow as single cells and you make bread and booze with them. Moulds grow in thread-like bundles called ‘mycelia’ and you make blue cheese with them. The distinction isn’t absolute, sometimes yeast can grow like mould and mould can grow like yeast.

There are very few infective yeasts. Candida albicans is one. If you’re one of those trendies who have named your daughter ‘Candida’ she’s not going to see a lot of action from anyone educated.

Ringworm, athletes’s foot and a few other fungi will infect you too but mostly fungi like to grow around 20degC. Inside the body is too warm for them. There are exceptions, the anaerobic fungi that grow in ruminant animals… but I’m drifting into lecturer mode and they don’t matter here.

No, if a mould is going to get you it’ll mostly be Farmer’s Lung or poisoning. Farmer’s Lung is a massive inhalation of fungal spores. Aspergillus gets the blame usually because it grows on hay. Really though, it doesn’t matter which one too much, it’s the mass that matters. Turn the hay, shift bales around, farmers do this in immense quantities and if it’s mouldy at all then disturbing it will throw a huge amount of spores into the air. Breathe them in and the irritation causes fluid buildup and before you know it, your doctor insists you must be a smoker even if you’ve never heard of tobacco.

Poisoning, well, picking your own mushrooms can do that. Destroying Angel is an innocent looking mushroom but very very deadly. Unless you know exactly what you are doing, get your mushrooms at the supermarket. Those are grown by mushroom growers who know what they are doing. Amateur mycologists are rare because most of them are dead now.

Shaggy Inkcap is a nice one. Get it before it turns to ink and fry it lightly. I know where a patch grows. But don’t have alcohol with it – it reacts very badly with alcohol. You won’t die but you might wish you hadĀ  šŸ˜‰

So, who just did a double take? Who thought I changed subjects between mould and mushrooms? I didn’t. Mushrooms, toadstools, they are all moulds.

More accurately they are the fruiting bodies of moulds. The spore producing parts. The seed pods, if you like. The frilly bit under the mushroom is where the spores are formed and released. Millions of them. Button mushrooms are the artichokes of the microbial world. The unopened flower.

Quorn is made of mould. Stilton is nothing without its surface mould and neither is Brie nor Camembert. The blue lines in many cheeses are a live mould. I like to keep Danish Blue until it’s turned very blue indeed. In fact, when the other cheeses start to turn blue, that one is ready.

I know, there is a terror of mould these days. The black stuff growing on your damp walls is nasty. Kill it immediately. And yet other moulds are good to eat. The cheese moulds are no different to eating mushrooms. It’s all mould.

It’s all killed in your stomach, you know. It’s hot and acidic in there.

If your fridge has no detectable levels of mushroom spores I can conclude that you never eat mushrooms. The same goes for spores of the white moulds around Brie or Camembert or the blue moulds through other tasty cheeses. They are all producing spores all the time.

You know what? It doesn’t matter. In a reasonably clean fridge the mould are the Biblical seeds that fell on stony ground. They can’t grow in there. It’s too cold and there’s no food.

And you are supposed to clean the fridge once in a while…

I’m not going into the whole range of different spore formations, it’s tempting but I’m not a lecturer any more. The basis is, mould spores are everywhere all the time. Always have been. Don’t worry about it.

Food that goes mouldy had those spores on it from the start. When you bought it or grew it, the spores were on it. If it’s mouldy it means only one thing. You kept it too long. Bin it.

As long as you’re not a total idiot, moulds are not scary. The red one with white spots, Amanita, is one to avoid. Yes you can get high on a small dose, but get the dose wrong and you get so high that Saint Peter says the last hello. As I said, if you don’t know what you’re doing leave them alone and stick to shop ones.

I seem to be alternating between terrifying and harmless. Well, it’s just common sense. Would you eat of the fruit of a tree you don’t know? Especially one you’ve been told is a bad idea to eat from?

Actually the Bible starts with the first humans doing just that. Might not be just a story. Could be a description of human nature.

‘Don’t do that, it’ll kill you’

‘Oh you think so? Watch this’.

Yeah… Not much has changed.

CStM told me about the last general strike in Denmark. People were stocking up on things in case they ran out and one of the things was yeast. Bread making yeast. In Denmark it’s sold as live active yeast, not the dry spores we get in the UK, so it has a very limited shelf life. Buying loads of it is silly. As she said, everyone could have gone for a sourdough approach starting with one pack. Nobody thinks of that unless they’ve studied at least a bit of microbiology and/or breadmaking.

Fungi make your bread and your beer and wine and whisky. They give you all those fancy and plain mushrooms and exotic cheeses. And yet you are terrified of them. I suppose it’s not a surprise. You’re all scared of bacteria and yet enjoy yogurt and salami and sauerkraut…

The modern obsession with ‘clean’ is killing you. You think you’re being healthy. No. You’re becoming weak.

The Daily Scare tells us that there are mould spores all over the place and we should be terrified. Sigh. If there weren’t spores all over the place we’d be on a different planet. A dead one.

I mean, look at it. They want us scared that a mould might grow in our carpet – a mould that is either only dangerous to grass or that is actually edible. Your carpet has to be continuously damp to get any growth at all and only then, if it’s a mould that can grow on carpet

So, a wool or cotton degrading mould then. It has to be able to eat the food it’s growing on. Moulds do tend to grow on dead organic matter so wool or cotton would do. Polyester carpet? Don’t spill any food on it…

The Mail have taken a basic-interest science study and turned it into a scare story.

I think tomorrow I’ll maybe get shares in the company that sells spray bleach.

Antibiotic shares? Nah, the idiots will eventually find out where they came from…

 

 

 

Oh I almost forgot…

 

Toilet cardboard vs. shitty sticks… which would you handle?

Tipped by the radiant and lovely Yvonne in Email…

As usual around this time of year they (greasy urchins’ playgroups) are asking for twigs, jam bottles, leaves and such. I was told that they are no longer able to use cardboard tubes from toilet rolls because of bacteria from bathrooms but they would like the tubes from kitchen foil, clingfilm and the like for crafts.
They’re okay with twigs and leaves which will inevitably be covered with all kinds of insect shit and might have been peed on by a fox or a weasel. They’d even be happy with the twigs we, as children, used to stand upright in cow pats to make little leafless forests on Stinky Hill.
We were allowed to wallow in filth as children. It’s why we have so few autoimmune diseases now, compared to Generation Feeble who are, quite literally, being mollycoddled to death. A bored immune system really is something to worry about.
They are not okay with cardboard tubes from toilet rolls because they might have ‘bathroom bacteria’ on them. There is no such thing. If they were honest they’d call them ‘arsebugs’ because that’s what they are really scared of. They aren’t scared of the multiple threats from twigs and leaves because that’s nature, and nature is allowed to be covered in shit. It’s natural so it’s safe shit.
There are very few bacteria in a properly maintained bathroom. You know it’s the highest risk room in the house so it gets hit with every chemical in your cleaning arsenal. You use chemicals in the toilet you’d never dream of using to clean cutlery. Deadly chemicals, things that can’t be left in the toilet bowl too long or they’ll etch the porcelain.
Most toilet seats these days are plastic or varnished wood. I haven’t seen bare wood ones since primary school and even we shabby filthy kids tried to avoid using those. It was a kind of instinct, I suspect. Bare wood is impossible to get bacteria-free unless you burn it or soak it in a bucket of creosote. Varnished wood or plastic just needs surface disinfecting.
Steel seats are a possibility, but not in Scotland because in winter you might find it hard to stand up afterwards.
Any impervious surface is easily rendered clean. You can use things that even Father Jack wouldn’t drink to wipe it down. Porous surfaces in bathrooms are high risk.
The little cardboard tube in the middle of the toilet roll is porous so the logic of the simple says it has to be high risk. However, you don’t wipe your arse with it unless you are
a) clinically insane,
b) have run out of paper and have nothing else within reach,
c) are exceptionally tight-fisted or
d) just like the feel of cardboard.
None of these would lead to you donating said cardboard tube to the horrors of youth unless you really, really don’t like them. Even then, I doubt even modern children would try to make anything out of a soggy, misshapen, stinky shit covered cardboard lump.
A normal cardboard arsepaper tube is low risk unless you ran out of paper and changed the roll without bothering to wash the brown sticky bits off your fingers first. Maybe that’s common among the young, I don’t know.
I remember, as a child, making Christmas decorations that looked a bit like a candle at school. We had to bring in our own toilet roll card tube and didn’t think it in any way creepy or odd. “This is the card tube. I wiped shit off my arse with the rest of it, and this is what’s left”. No, it never occurred to us to question it. It was just a cardboard tube.
Nobody ever died or got even slightly sick. We made shitty decorations out of the shitpaper tubes and nobody ever caught so much as an STD from it. I have wondered if maybe the parents are saying ‘Please, no more dreadful Christmas tat. We have enough.’
We did get occasional bouts of squirty bottom from playing with filthy leaves and shitty sticks, and perhaps it’s a slightly twisted good thing that those are still allowed for the horrible small ones of the modern world.
At least their immune systems are getting some exercise, despite the best efforts of modern education and progressive parents to turn them into flabby Nazi leucocytes…

Copper

In the days of yore, when risk equalled thrill and life wasn’t bubble wrapped, we had a damn good time. I recall going to the corner shop to pick up Dad’s tenĀ  Players smokes and buying sweets with the change. Then age limits came in and we (me and little brother) had to go back and say we weren’t allowed to get them any more.

Dad went to the corner shop in a rage. We should have gone along to watch. It must have been hilarious.

All we thought was ‘no more sweets’ but we had reckoned without Nanna and some aunties. There was no interruption in sweets.

Back in those days, lots of things were made of brass. Door handles especially but also handrails and taps and many other things. Brass is an easily worked alloy and the copper component is antibacterial while zinc is proven to speed wound healing. Together they are soft enough to work easily and hard enough to resist easy denting.

Hospitals were once full of brass. Door handles, handrails, even the toilet flush handle was brass. They might not have known when they put it all in but they had placed the best antibacterial/wound healing stuff over the whole place and they put it where everyone would touch it.

Then they sold it all for scrap. They exchanged health for money. Your missing years of life paid for new carpets for the admin block. Aren’t you so very pleased?

They put in plastic and wood and are still trying to work out why hospital infections are on the increase. These are possibly the highest paid idiots on the planet.

And we, you and me, are paying them.

Now there is an early Halloween story for you. A world run by mindless zombies who care nothing for your brain but who find the content of your bank account irresistible.

The downside is that it wouldn’t be fiction.

Opening the Gates

Seven days from today I will throw open the gates of Hell.

I will stand, arms open, in the path of every demon coming through and I will face down and defeat every one.

Do I sound brave? I hope so because really I’m shitting myself. Ive never done this before. I have no real idea what I’m doing or how to do it and yet this is the biggest, toughest thing I have ever done. I have no weapons, no defence and no plan. What I have, that I never had before, is the courage to face it.

This is also the most important thing I have ever done. It has to be perfect.

Oh, for once, to hell with perfect. All I want from this one is fast. I’ll wing it. It’ll be fine.

I can’t know for sure what is in what’s left of my future but I can be sure of what was in my past.

I have to cut it loose. No matter where my future goes, my past has to leave me now. All of it.

It’s transition time.

Cleanliness is next to smokiness

I have a metaphysical treatise rumbling in here, probably the result of bugger all sleep for the last few nights. Lack of sleep puts my brain in some very strange places. It’s not complete and won’t be until I’m awake enough to pick the good bits out of the jumble of nonsense. Also I have another early one tomorrow.

Tonight I have a very simple story from the University of the Bleeding Obvious.

Bleach is a cleaning chemical that releases chlorine. Lots of chlorine. Enough to cause burns in skin. Chlorine is a very reactive gas and really pretty damn toxic. That’s why bleach is so effective.

Now, the bottles you get for home use aren’t strong enough to damage an adult unless they drink it or splash it on themselves. Which can happen. I have a few marks here and there… but that won’t surprise anyone. Yes, I use bleach to clean things and I have the scars to prove it. Don’t sniff the end of the bottle and you won’t inhale enough to do serious internal damage.

Those kinds of bottles normally have ‘Keep away from children’ written on them. Sound advice in general. In particular though, the advice refers to the rather less well developed structure of the average greasy little urchin, and the therefore enhanced capability of bleach to damage said urchin.

Including their lungs.

In fact, bleach is now causing pretty much everything that smoking has been blamed for in the past. Except dandruff, scabies, mad cow disease, tennis elbow and wanker’s wrist.

I don’t think it’s bleach itself that is supressing the infant immune system. It’s the liberal application to all surfaces, resulting in a much reduced local bioflora, that then leads to an immune system with nothing much to practice on.

Again, the average adult has lived among filth and squalor at some stage of their lives, or engaged in youthful actiivities in their past involving fireworks and fresh cow dung, and now has an immune system stocked with antibodies against most things.

The use of bleach does not remove the adult’s accumulated immunities. It only affects the child. Which suggests that the effect is not directly on the immune system but on something related to that immune system. Environmental bacteria, fungi and viruses. Those things the immune system needs to experience in small doses so it can learn how to wipe the buggers out if they come in mob-handed at a later stage.

Chlorine gas can damage lungs too. In well-ventilated houses this would never have been a problem but the current trend for multilayered windows and door seals that would work on Mars means that many houses contain most of the same air they had when they were built.

So maybe, just maybe, passive smoke isn’t causing these mysterious illnesses in the offspring of the antismoking Puritans after all.

Maybe it’s passive cleaning.

 

 

Chicken shit

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 thatĀ  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.

Would you?