Indians love freebies. And they love chicken. The per capita consumption of poultry has increased four-fold in the last 50 years. So, let me give you the knowledge of two free things you get with your chicken. A bacterium called Compylobacter, and the stuff we use to clean our bathrooms with, Chlorine.
Campylobacter comes from contaminated meat products, especially poultry. The avian species are the most common host for Campylobacter, probably because of their higher body temperature. Contamination occurs both on the farm and in poultry slaughter plants. Routine procedures on the farm, such as feed, handling, and transport practices, bring infected birds for slaughter. At the slaughter plant, de-feathering, evisceration, and carcass chillers have been documented to cross-contaminate poultry carcasses. Researchers have found Campylobacter to be at their highest populations on poultry during the warmer months. During these months, 87% to 97% of the samples tested were positive for the bacteria. Freezing does not eliminate the pathogen from contaminated foods. It survives even at 4 °C.
Campylobacter was first described in 1880 by Theodore Escherich. It has long been recognized as a cause of diarrhoea in cattle and of septic abortion in cattle and sheep. Only in the last 25 years has Campylobacter been recognized as an important cause of human illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that it is the major cause of bacterial diarrheal illness, with thousands of cases documented annually, and 50% to 70% of those attributed to consuming poultry and poultry products. Children and young adults are more susceptible to this disease, and individuals with immunosuppression can develop prolonged or unusually severe cases of illness. Many thousand people die. Doses as low as 500 organisms have been reported to cause illness.
The most common clinical symptoms of campylobacteriosis are fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea that occur within 2 to 5 days of ingestion of food or water contaminated with C. jejuni. Antibiotics, like erythromycin and fluoroquinolones, are usually prescribed, but now the bacteria is resistant to both. In about 1 of 1000 cases, the infection is followed 2 to 3 weeks later with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a debilitating inflammatory polyneuritis characterised by fever, pain, and weakness that progresses to paralysis. Other possible autoimmune diseases, from Campylobacter infections, include Miller Fisher syndrome and Reiter’s syndrome or reactive arthritis.
At the consumer level, accidental ingestion of 1 drop of raw chicken juice can easily constitute an infectious dose. Infections can occur during the improper handling of raw chicken carcasses, by eating insufficiently cooked chicken, and via cross-contamination of other foods by contact with knives or cutting boards used to prepare raw chicken.
The elimination of Campylobacter infection from birds, before killing, is not feasible. It spreads through the communal drinking water, the hands of the handlers, the faeces which contaminates all Indian poultries. Chickens are stuffed into cages and sent for slaughter. Campylobacter has been shown to increase during transport. It is known that stress lowers the resistance of the live animal and increases the spreading of intestinal bacteria. Potential sources of Campylobacter contamination, on poultry carcasses, include faecal contamination of feathers and skin during transport to the slaughter facility, leakage of faecal content from the cloaca, intestinal breakage, and contact with contaminated equipment, water, or other carcasses. By the time the birds reach the place of killing, campylobacter infections are 10-fold greater than when they started off earlier that day.
Birds are unloaded, shackled, killed, scalded, de-feathered, eviscerated, washed. The data showed no reduction in bacteria, Escherichia coli, or Campylobacter on carcasses during scalding and de-feathering.
So, the poultry industry as a last resort, has, for the last forty years dunked the carcasses into a bath of chlorinated water to remove blood, faecal and bacterial contamination. Then the carcasses are required to be cooled rapidly to prevent bacterial growth. So the dead birds are put into water chillers. 20 to 50 ppm chlorine and chlorine dioxide is added to the water chillers and the bodies are immersed in it from 5-15 minutes. Chlorine is not just used directly on the chicken, but in all the machinery that is used to cut and clean the bird.
The poultry industry as a last resort, has, for the last forty years dunked the carcasses into a bath of chlorinated water to remove blood, faecal and bacterial contamination. Then the carcasses are required to be cooled rapidly to prevent bacterial growth. So the dead birds are put into water chillers. 20 to 50 ppm chlorine and chlorine dioxide is added to the water chillers and the bodies are immersed in it from 5-15 minutes. Chlorine is not just used directly on the chicken, but in all the machinery that is used to cut and clean the bird.
Chlorine has a variety of uses. It is used to disinfect water, and is part of the sanitation process for sewage and industrial waste. It is also used in cleaning products, household bleach, solvents, pesticides, polymers, synthetic rubbers, and refrigerants. Chlorine bleach is used to disinfect toilet bowls.
Chlorine is used by the poultry industry to reduce spoilage bacteria and compylobacter, control the spread of pathogens, and prevent build-up of microorganisms on working surfaces and equipment. Does it succeed? Not really. Most studies show that, in commercial poultries, chlorine shows a small amount of reduction in carcass contamination. Researchers, like Sanders and Black, say that there is little effect of chlorine in the final carcass wash unless at least 40 mg/L is used. Washing carcasses post-chilled with water containing 50 mg/L of chlorine did not reduce the proportion of salmonella bacteria. These studies emphasized the importance of adequate contact time, which is not usually done in a washing operation.
Chlorine dioxide is a synthetic yellowish-green gas, which smells like chlorine bleach and is being used since the 90s. In 1967, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first registered the liquid form of chlorine dioxide for use as a disinfectant and sanitizer. From drains it has found its way to chickens and is used to control the microbial population in poultry processing chill water. Chlorine dioxide tends to result in a slightly lighter skin colour, because it bleaches the chicken.
The illness caused by Campylobacter contamination is clearly a major issue in our food system. But most poultry processing plants do not measure Campylobacter levels, since doing so would involve rejection of all chicken carcasses.
Chlorine does not bring the bacterial load levels of contamination below the threat to public health. Campylobacter has been discovered in 69%-98% of retail-packaged broilers sampled from grocery stores in the U.S. A study (Bongkot) from New Zealand showed that Campylobacter existed in 63% of chicken carcasses at retail outlets. Blankenship and Craven detected viable strains of Compylobacter in ground chicken meat. A study (Friedman) in the United Kingdom estimated Campylobacter organisms on the surface of 80% fresh chicken carcasses. Kanenaka found 93% infected poultry samples in 2 large retail markets in Hawaii. If this is what happens in countries with strict food controls, what could happen to us where the food inspector has no labs, no checking equipment, and exists only to take bribes.
So, your favourite curry has a large dollop of free Campylobacter bacteria and the bleach you used to clean your toilet bowl with this morning. Are you ok with that?