Food-Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination

Food-Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination
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The food-poisoning fecal bacteria found in 70% of U.S. retail poultry is destroyed by proper cooking, but contamination of the kitchen environment may place consumers at risk.

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More than half of the retail poultry in the world is contaminated with the food poisoning bacteria, Campylobacter. About 50% of European poultry, 60% of Northern American retail—more than 70% in the U.S.—most of which were recently reported to be antibiotic-resistant. But not all strains of Campylobacter can trigger human paralysis; not all strains have that molecular mimic.

Researchers at Hopkins and UCLA recently looked into the prevalence of the potentially neuropathic strains of Campylobacter in commercial poultry products, right off of supermarket shelves. Of 65 isolates of Campylobacter, they found only about 60% were in the three classes most associated with the development of paralysis. So the odds may be only 50/50 or so that you might be bringing home something that could trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Even if you make the wrong choice, though, who undercooks chicken? I mean eggs, I can see. People like their sunny side up yolk a little runny, or a burger that’s a little pink inside. But who wants rare chicken? That’s not the main problem. It’s not the undercooking; it’s the cross-contamination.

Once that meat thermometer hits the right temperature, any and all fecal contamination is cooked. You could let your kids play with it; you could rub your toothbrush on it. All viruses and bacteria are dead. You could still, I don’t know, choke on a chicken bone, puncture an artery, and bleed to death, but the infectious disease problem with chicken is between when you first touch the package at the store, and when it finally makes it into the pot.

You can have all the safe cooking labels you want, but that won’t raise awareness that bacteria from the surface of the chicken meat can stick to the hands of the cook, or could be spread in the kitchen environment, and subsequently may contaminate ready-to-eat foods, like salads, or already cooked foods, accompanying the meal.

Why don’t we have that kind of label instead of just safe cooking? Consumer surveys show that the majority of people want to see that kind of information on food packaging. Why not just name poultry, meat, and eggs as likely contamination sources with foodborne pathogens like Salmonella and Campylobacter? Good for consumer safety, public health.

But from an industry point of view, the problem with that is “it has been shown that this sort of ‘naming and blaming’ infection risks to poultry meat and eggs may result in a drop of poultry meat and egg consumption.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to wonggawei and daydayxvi via Flickr

More than half of the retail poultry in the world is contaminated with the food poisoning bacteria, Campylobacter. About 50% of European poultry, 60% of Northern American retail—more than 70% in the U.S.—most of which were recently reported to be antibiotic-resistant. But not all strains of Campylobacter can trigger human paralysis; not all strains have that molecular mimic.

Researchers at Hopkins and UCLA recently looked into the prevalence of the potentially neuropathic strains of Campylobacter in commercial poultry products, right off of supermarket shelves. Of 65 isolates of Campylobacter, they found only about 60% were in the three classes most associated with the development of paralysis. So the odds may be only 50/50 or so that you might be bringing home something that could trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Even if you make the wrong choice, though, who undercooks chicken? I mean eggs, I can see. People like their sunny side up yolk a little runny, or a burger that’s a little pink inside. But who wants rare chicken? That’s not the main problem. It’s not the undercooking; it’s the cross-contamination.

Once that meat thermometer hits the right temperature, any and all fecal contamination is cooked. You could let your kids play with it; you could rub your toothbrush on it. All viruses and bacteria are dead. You could still, I don’t know, choke on a chicken bone, puncture an artery, and bleed to death, but the infectious disease problem with chicken is between when you first touch the package at the store, and when it finally makes it into the pot.

You can have all the safe cooking labels you want, but that won’t raise awareness that bacteria from the surface of the chicken meat can stick to the hands of the cook, or could be spread in the kitchen environment, and subsequently may contaminate ready-to-eat foods, like salads, or already cooked foods, accompanying the meal.

Why don’t we have that kind of label instead of just safe cooking? Consumer surveys show that the majority of people want to see that kind of information on food packaging. Why not just name poultry, meat, and eggs as likely contamination sources with foodborne pathogens like Salmonella and Campylobacter? Good for consumer safety, public health.

But from an industry point of view, the problem with that is “it has been shown that this sort of ‘naming and blaming’ infection risks to poultry meat and eggs may result in a drop of poultry meat and egg consumption.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to wonggawei and daydayxvi via Flickr

Doctor's Note

I explain about Guillain-Barré syndrome (Campylobacter-triggered paralysis) in Poultry and Paralysis, in case you missed it. Fecal contamination from poultry is thought to be why more fecal bacteria can be recovered from kitchen sinks than toilet seats; see Fecal Contamination of Sushi. For cross-contamination and undercooking risks associated with eggs, see my video, Total RecallMigrating Fish Bones documents a parallel to the fatal arterial puncture case presented here.

For further context, check out my associated blog posts:  Bugs & Drugs in Pork: Yersinia and RactopamineWhich Pets Improve Children’s Health?Why Is Selling Salmonella-Tainted Chicken Legal?; and Probiotics and Diarrhea

2018 Update: I recently published a few new videos on chicken and illnesses. See: How to Shop for, Handle, & Store Chicken and Urinary Tract Infections from Eating Chicken.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

11 responses to “Food-Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination

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  1. I explain about Guillain-Barré syndrome (Campylobacter-triggered paralysis) in Poultry and Paralysis, in case you missed it. Fecal contamination from poultry is thought to be why more fecal bacteria can be recovered from kitchen sinks than toilet seats. See Fecal Contamination of Sushi. For cross-contamination and undercooking risks associated with eggs, see my video Total Recall. Migrating Fish Bones documents a parallel to the fatal arterial puncture case presented here. And hundreds of other videos are available on more than a thousand subjects.

    1. I think Neal Barnard at PCRM should “sue the bastards” and make them place the labels on the packages. I can only teach so much at an office visit and the legal avenue is probably the most appropriate and rewarding!

  2. My father is in the hospital since a month with this sickness, is there anything you could recommend to fasten the myelin sheath recovery ? Thanks a lot

    1. Hi Styve625,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your father. GBS can be a very frightening disease. Certainly we know that a high- calorie, high –protein diet is important early in the disease (1,2). However, after that, it is unclear. There are no good studies I could find on diet in GBS. That being said, we know that demyelination in GBS is mediated by an inflammatory immune response (2). There is some evidence that anti-oxidants may help diminish this response (3). And, luckily, there are quite a lot of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables! Check out Dr. G’s talks on this.

      Antioxidants in Spices

      Antioxidants in Food

      Good luck with your father, I hope things go well for him.

      1) Roubenoff RA, Borel CO, Hanley DF. Hypermetabolism and hypercatabolism in Guillain-Barré syndrome. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1992 Sep-Oct;16(5):464-72.

      (2) Meena, A. K., Khadilkar, S. V., & Murthy, J. M. K. (2011). Treatment guidelines for Guillain–Barré Syndrome. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 14(Suppl1), S73–S81. http://doi.org/10.4103/0972-2327.83087

      (3) Smith KJ, Kapoor R, Felts PA. Demyelination: the role of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. Brain Pathol. 1999 Jan;9(1):69-92. Review.

      1. Hi Dr Jen, Thanks for the quick response. It would be great to know this info before cause I thinks he’s in the recovery phase. Do you have some tips on “Remyelination” ? I heard vitamin b12, d and lecithin could help. By the way, in between my post and your, my mom text me he’s moving tomorow to a readaptation center ! Thanks again

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