Health: How to poison yourself

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Indy Lifestyle Online
You cannot be serious?

Certainly am. Four times as many Brits poison themselves today with what they put in their mouths as they did 10 years ago - and it looks set to increase.

Is this deliberate ?

Hard to say. Those with poor personal hygiene or who don't store or prepare food properly may not be doing it on purpose, but they're asking for trouble. And we're not just talking a mild dose of the squits. Severe food poisoning can mean flying around the country in an emergency helicopter trying to locate an empty intensive-care bed.

That serious, huh?

Not usually, no, but I do so enjoy being party to a mass-media health panic. The commonest culprit - the Campylobacter bacteria - is implicated in 50,000 cases a year, but probably causes many more due to under-reporting. It can take anything between one and 10 days for the bug to incubate before symptoms appear, so it can be hard to trace the source. Don't automatically blame it on the Balti - some outbreaks have been caused by dirty birds pecking the top off your milk. Symptoms range from none to mild squats to bloody horrible squits and general unwellness for a week.

What about Salmonella?

This has been less newsworthy since Edwina Currie left office, but the Government still recommends you avoid raw eggs, or at least eating them. Salmonella lived in cattle long before BSE and spread to other species through the three S's (shit, slurry and sewerage). Try not to buy your meat from farms where the animals are packed in and poo all over each other. If you eat MRM (mechanically recovered meat), then bits of lots of carcasses all end up in the same sausage, increasing the risk of infection.

Any others I should know about?

If you or your partner are pregnant, avoid ripened soft or blue-veined cheese and pate which may contain listeria and can cause miscarriage. Staphylococcus aureas is carried in the nose of 40 per cent of health adults, but when picked out and flicked into food can cause a quick onset of cramps, vomiting and squits. It also gets into the food chain from pus (spots, wound infections etc). Bacillus cereus likes dodgy cereals, spices, milk and dairy products. It is famous for colonising ice-cream and causing explosive outbreaks on aeroplanes. Clostridium perfringens goes for bulk-cooked meat and poultry dishes. Then there's VTEC...

Isn't that an educational qualification?

No, it's a nasty type of Escherichia Coli with an even nastier toxin. There has been a 14-fold increase in outbreaks since 1985 and 7 per cent of sufferers experience kidney problems, which have caused a number of fatal outbreaks. On a brighter note, 93 per cent just get cramps, squits and vomiting. VTEC is also found in cattle, and is more likely to infect you in an underdone hamburger than BSE. All farm animals can pass it on, as can their products (especially if unpasteurised), contaminated water and even, er, contaminated humans.

How about viruses?

Plenty of those. A really good, brief, pan-splattering diarrhoea and quick turn around for vomiting is often down to a SRSV (small round structured virus). These are passed easily from person to person from both ends. Shellfish grown in estuaries and inlets also used for sewerage outlets often harbour SRSV, so never eat them raw.

Unless I want to poison myself?

Exactly. Poisoning yourself is easy if you follow these rules:

1 When you buy chilled and frozen food at a supermarket, lock it in a hot car boot and take as long as possible to get home.

2 Ensure your fridge is warm, at least above 5C, and your freezer is well above minus 18C. Leaving the door open usually does the trick.

3 Prepare and store raw and cooked foods together, using the same utensils, to maximise cross contamination. Bung it all in the same drawer in your warm fridge.

4 Never wash your hands.

5 Never wash work surfaces and chopping boards.

6 Allow a variety of pets to share your work surfaces.

7 Only buy food well past its sell-by date

8 Never defrost anything - just bung it straight in the oven

9 Most bugs copulate between 5C and 63C - keep all your food tepid, especially ice cream

10 Make sure beefburgers or chicken is pink and cold inside.

11 Leave leftovers as long as possible before eating. 12 Pick your nose and squeeze your spots while cooking.

Phil Hammond's 'Trust Me, I'm a Doctor', is on BBC2 at 8pm tonight.