The Express is at it again, though to be fair they’re only aping yesterday’s (Friday’s) Sky News. For just about the entire afternoon, Sky was banging on about the latest ‘food poisoning scandal’ to hit the UK. The only light relief was the channel pillorying various luminaries from FIFA over the bribery scandals. Intriguingly, Mad Vlad the Impaler, Russia’s president, got in on that act, saying the whole thing had been orchestrated by the US to derail Russia’s 2018 staging of the World Cup. Something gratifying about Putin of all people up in arms about bribery given the regime over which he holds sway.

Anyway, back to the Express. Socking great headline. ‘KILLER BUGS IN YOUR CHICKEN.’ They do hysteria really well in the paper, as indeed they do bold italic type. However, read the small print and things aren’t as bad as you might think. Bad, but not that bad.

The Food Standards Agency had tested 4000 samples of chicken and packaging for Campylobacter. Apparently about 72% were contaminated. Sounds a lot, but it’s not much up on the 67% found at the last testing session in 2009. It’s still a heck of a lot though, isn’t it? Given that the UK consumes 2.2M portions of chicken a day. Sounds like a pretty big deal.

Well, yes and no.

Figures are a bit vague, but the Express reckons there are thought to be 280,000 cases of food poisoning due to this bacterium (or bug to use Expresspeak, since they can’t spell bacterium) every year. Do the sums. Multiply 2.2M by 365 days in the year, and the incidence of actual illness is miniscule by comparison. The use of the term ‘thought to be’ is a bit of a cause for concern too, no?

The consumer group Which leapt into action. While acknowledging that supermarkets are taking action, they thumped their tub and insisted ’…but much more needs to be done.’ Exactly what do they expect? A leading light from no less an establishment than the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine fronted up  and admitted it was almost impossible to control the infection in domestic birds, even free range ones before the animal rights people make a fuss, since it’s widespread in the wild as well as in domestic flocks. Short of a wholesale cull, I can’t see a way round this.

Now we have to come to consumers. If you don’t know by now that you need to cook chicken until none of it is pink, and juices run clear when you carve, then to be honest you deserve a quick bout of diarrhoea, occasionally vomiting, muscle cramps, high temperature, and chills. It’ll all be over really fast, because the infection is short lived. You can tell how serious  this isn’t by the fact that the recommended treatment is rest and drinking lots of water, and staying out of people’s way for a couple of days.

Things only get really bad in vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the young. The elderly tend to cremate their food anyway, so this may not be a problem. The young? Parents today are so obsessed with hygiene (witness the antibacterial clothes wash products you can now, pointlessly, buy) little Jolanda and Aaron won’t cop a dose either. As for fatality rate, nobody knows, but it is estimated (estimated) at about 100 per year. Which means it’s vanishingly small, since the lads at the LSHTM would be sitting up and taking notice if the populace were dropping like flies. This deathrate pales into insignificance given the excess deaths caused by the government limiting cold weather fuel payments.

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