Food Poisoning

Superbug risk from undercooked meat

Superbugs may be passed on to people by eating undercooked meat, a government report has warned.Superbugs may be passed on to people by eating undercooked meat, a government report has warned.

 

Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria can lurk in the meat we eat because of excessive use of antibiotics for farming, according to the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

If we eat it raw or undercooked, there is a risk – albeit small – that we might catch these hard-to-treat infections and become ill.

Bacteria are constantly evolving and can learn how to dodge the drugs we use.

Over-reliance on antibiotic drugs in any setting can lead to resistance. Regular use of antibiotics in food animals creates the ideal conditions for the emergence of resistant bacteria.

Weak, susceptible bacteria die off, while the antibiotic-resistant bacteria thrive.

 

Humans can catch these bacteria if they come into close contact with the animals – farmers, for example – or if they eat the infected meat.

While most cases of food poisoning, although unpleasant, do not need treatment, some people may need to take antibiotics. And if the bacteria responsible are already resistant to these drugs then it makes treating the infection difficult. How can I check the meat I eat is safe?

If you eat meat, the safest way to consume it is well cooked – steaming hot all the way through and any juices run clear. This kills any bacteria that might be present.

Health Direct says it is safe to serve steak and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare (not cooked in the middle) or blue (seared on the outside) as long as they have been properly sealed (cooked quickly at a high temperature on the outside only) to kill any bacteria on the meat’s surface.

The report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases showed resistance in a fifth of animals tested, 15% of raw meat samples and in 16 patients. Can we stop the use?

In the UK, nearly half of all antibiotics used are in farming. We cannot stop all antibiotic use in food animals. The drugs are useful for reducing animal disease and suffering. But experts say there is massive scope for curbing their use.

Denmark remains one of the biggest exporters of pork in the world but has greatly reduced its levels of antibiotic use in livestock.

As well as reducing the quantity of use, more restrictions are needed on the types of antibiotics used in animals, the government report says.

Countries need to come together and agree to restrict or even ban the use in animals of antibiotics that are important for humans, it adds.

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Food allergies may be linked to chemicals in tap water

New research suggests that chemicals in tap water are linked to the huge rise in food allergies.Food allergies may be linked to chemicals in tap waterFood allergies have risen sharply over the past 20 years, with 1-2 per cent of adults and 4-6 per cent of children thought to be affected. The number of children admitted to hospital for food-related anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) has risen seven-fold since 1990 – but no one quite knows why.

The latest theory Food Allergies? Pesticides in Tap Water Might be to Blame, published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, suggests that chemicals called dichlorophenols could be to blame.

US researchers who looked at food allergies in more than 2,000 people found that those with the highest levels of dichlorophenols in their urine had an 80 per cent higher risk of having a food allergy.

Their theory is that dichlorophenols, which they say are found in purified tap water and in pesticides and disinfectants, have anti-bacterial properties that could affect the microflora in the gut that are thought to protect against food allergies.

Dichlorophenols are also by-products of a common antibacterial and antifungal agent called triclosan (used in many consumer products, including toothpaste) and in the UK are more likely to be found in household cleaning products, kitchen utensils and containers and pesticide residues than in water.

Although little research has been done on UK exposure levels, the Chemicals Regulation Directorate says dichlorophenols “have not been identified as a cause of concern”.

The reason behind the rise in food and other allergies remains a mystery.

One well-known theory is the hygiene hypothesis – that as we become increasingly obsessed with cleanliness, our children are not exposed to the bugs that help the immune system develop properly. Another unproven theory is that the rise in allergies may be due to basic changes in Western diets, with processed foods becoming more common and fresh fruit and veg less so.

Some experts now think that government guidelines introduced in the Nineties may have contributed to the explosion in food allergies. “Parents were advised to avoid giving peanuts to young infants on the grounds that early consumption of potential allergens could affect underdeveloped immune systems, resulting in allergy – when the opposite seems to be the case,” says Prof Brostoff.

The guidelines were quietly withdrawn in 2009 after a large study the previous year showed that Jewish children living in the UK were almost 10 times more likely to develop a peanut allergy than those living in Israel, where peanut protein – often in the form of Bamba, a popular snack – is commonly given to infants in the first year of life.

Prof Brostoff says the best thing parents can do to reduce the risk of food allergy in their children is to gradually introduce potential allergens – not just peanuts, but cow’s milk, eggs and fish – at an early age.

“The lining of the gut membrane is the most powerful immune organ in the body,” he says. “The advice I always give is that it is better to introduce foods when the gut is more plastic and able to adapt. Giving a food early in a baby’s life can help make the gut more tolerant, and numerically this effect is more important than the presence in the environment of any chemicals.”

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Garlic fights food poisoning bacteria

Scientists have found a compound in garlic is 100 times more effective at fighting a common type of bacteria that causes food poisoning, called Campylobacter, than two types of antibiotic.Garlic fights food poisoning bacteriaCampylobacter is commonly found both on the surface of poultry and inside the flesh. Cases of related food poisoning have been rising in recent years, due partly to an increasing fondness for serving ‘pink’ chicken liver pâté.

Now researchers at Washington State University in the US have found that a compound derived from garlic, called diallyl sulphide, is particularly effective at penetrating the slimy film that protects colonies of Campylobacter.

They found that, in a laboratory setting, it was 100 times more effective than the antibiotics erythromycin and ciprofloxacin, and would often work in “a fraction of the time”.

Barbara Rasco, associate professor of food science, said: “Diallyl sulphide could make many foods safer to eat. It can be used to clean food preparation surfaces and as a preservative in packaged foods like potato and pasta salads, coleslaw and deli meats.”

The study is published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. However, the authors said that white eating garlic was generally a healthy thing to do, they could not be sure it would help prevent Campylobacter-related food poisoning.

There were 18 outbreaks of Campylobacter poisoning reported to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) last year, causing 443 people to fall ill. Most were from eating out. there are certain to be many more unreported cases from normal kitchen cooking.

At the time, Bob Martin, head of foodborne disease strategy at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said: “Levels of Campylobacter in most raw chicken are high so it’s really important that chefs cook livers thoroughly to kill any bacteria, even if recipes call for them to be seared and left pink in the middle.

“The only way of ensuring the pâté or parfait will be safe to serve to your guests or customers is by cooking the livers the whole way through.”

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