The race that stops a nation really did stop us in our tracks this year but for all the wrong reasons.
The Melbourne Cup, Australia’s biggest horse racing event of the year, sees to hundreds of private office functions being hosted around the country to watch the inaugural event and down a few free booze and waste away an afternoon in the office. It’s all in the name of tradition folks.
In my humble home of Brisbane, however, all was not glam, fillies, frocks and champagne. There was most certainly a rotten smell to the festivities. A headline graced our newspapers for reasons I’m sure one poor catering company could probably do without.
It was reported that more than 220 people were affected by a salmonella outbreak as a direct result of one Brisbane-based company that catered to more than 40 functions. The death of a 77-year-old woman has even been linked to the food poisoning outbreak.
A statement made by the Brisbane-based catering company responsible for the outbreak said,
“Piccalilli Catering provided catering services to a range of clients at various venues around Brisbane on Melbourne Cup Day. This catering included fresh mayonnaise made by our chefs from eggs purchased from a Brisbane fresh food wholesaler. We believe these eggs were the source of a food-borne illness, which has affected a number of our clients and their guests.”
“We feel very disappointed and let down that the normally reliable fresh food supply chain has failed us – and our clients – on this occasion,” the owner of the catering company explained.
“Having sourced those eggs from a normally reputable fresh food market, we had no reason to believe they were not up to the very high standards we demand of our suppliers.”
On a large scale as seen in the catering industry, it really does only take 1 bad eggs to ruin a whole batch.
Ok, ok, enough will the bad puns already.
This particular story grabbed my attention though as it was not only close to home, but it makes you wonder, should the catering company have taken more care themselves or should the fault lie solely on the supplier?
The name of the reputable local business has probably been tarnished from the experience and a business relationship severed with the supplier who they had obviously trusted. No names were dropped to hint who it was that was responsible at that end and hence, it’s uncertain as to the conditions of their farm and to what extent the salmonella has been treated.
Regardless, there’s pressing urgency for us, as consumers, to maintain control over our food systems, to understand where it’s coming from, to develop a relationship with the producers and to be accountable to this whole process.
So to explore the issue further, I’m delving into the nasty little world of Salmonella, what you can do to prevent being affected by it and why I’m not concerned for my safety.
What is Salmonella?
It’s actually common for chickens to carry Salmonella as it’s a type of germ that naturally resides in the intestines of poultry and many other animals. So it usually doesn’t make the bird sick, but it can cause serious harm if passed onto people.
Salmonella can easily be transmitted by simply cracking an egg and having the yolk come in contact with a contaminated shell. Think washing your eggs will do the trick? Not if you buy commerical eggs it won’t. In fact, commercial eggs are often washed and ‘sterilised’ via machine powered air-filtration and chlorine misters that remove the natural coating, called the cuticle, that the hen coats an egg with when she lays them. This coating then hardens when laid and actually helps to ward off bacterias that would cause harm!
Concern lies in the fact that hens may harbor the bacteria in their ovaries and transmit this to new eggs, something that simply washing your eggs or hands won’t be able to combat.
Whether you choose to wash your eggs or not, the risk is still there. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if an egg is contaminated by simply looking at it.
How do you get Salmonella poisoning & what happens?
Gastrointestinal distress as a result of Salmonella poisoning is most often caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs or egg products. If you’re exposed to the bacteria, you may experience symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and vomiting within six to 72 hours. Symptoms may persist for a few hours to a few days.
Salmonella isn’t viral, so you can’t catch it like a cold by simply coming in contact with someone who has been affected by the food poisoning or an infected chicken. It’s a bacteria and therefore, one would need to ingest it in order to develop the food poisoning symptoms. Young children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are especially at risk and it can be fatal. You should certainly seek medical attention.
So does this mean we all need to panic, raise hell, throw out all our eggs and head for the hills?
What does this mean for you?
What this means is that we need to be extra vigilant in who we are buying our eggs from and in our own practices as backyard farmers.
If you are raising your own chickens, there are many elements that are within your control. You oversee what your chickens eat, the sanitary conditions of their nesting boxes and you’ll be able to closely monitor the health and safety conditions of the flock.
Whilst there is never a 100% guarantee against such things like this, someone who raises their own chickens will fair a hundred times better than say, a factory farm that crams chicken upon chicken upon chicken that allows them less room than a shoebox to move. Are you understanding now that just one sick chicken in this kind of scenario could rapidly cause the whole mother-ship to self-implode? A factory farm is an incubator for disease. Just like flying on an airplane. How many times have you landed to only discover you’ve contracted an itchy throat and sniffy nose. Not to put you off flying or anything.
Joel Salatin, one of the much loved faces of the sustainable agricultural movement and owner of Polyface Farm explained to The Daily Beast,
“The propensity for a problem is magnified under the fecal particulate air in these industrial egg farms. What it does is it breaks down the immune system and creates openings for pathogens. If you were trying to design a pathogen-friendly system, you would go to a single species, crowd that species together, deny it fresh air, exercise, and sunshine, never give it a rest time—have it there 365 days a year, and feed it a diet that maximizes a minimal standard of performance, rather than maximizes nutrition or feed that is nutritionally superior. What I’ve just described is Egg Factory Farming 101. This is just symptomatic of the pathogen-friendly nature of industrial agriculture.”
There is significant risk of illnesses in over-crowded facilities, such as in factory farming methods. Whilst testings for contamination are routinely carried out on large-scale production facilities, they are also more likely the same factories that house their chickens in unsanitary caged facilities. These are the same facilities that are more likely to use antibiotics as a form of treatment. The more antibiotics an animal is treated with, the greater they are at risk to developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Source).
It’s clear that this is not the answer.
What is the answer?
If you don’t have chickens of your own, the next best thing is sourcing eggs from a small-scale farm where sustainable methods are practiced and where chickens are allowed to live out their days doing what chickens do best; foraging, pecking for insects and bugs amongst the grass, scratching at stuff, building little nests in the straw and bathing in the natural light of the sun that aids in strengthening their immune systems.
Chickens were not made to be debeaked, force-fed GMO grains, confined to an over-populated cages with disease infested rats scuttling about, to sleep in their own shit until they’re finally marched to their death like at a concentration camp.
What can you do to prevent Salmonella?
This is information for if you are raising your own chickens:
Always wash your hands after being in contact with chickens and pets.
Keep your chicken’s living quarters clean and any equipment used around them
Make sure there’s no risk of your chickens ingesting potentially hazardous fecal matter by regularly cleaning their cages. Wear gloves when cleaning and thoroughly wash your hands if handling chicken poo.
If you have a chicken that’s appearing sick, has developed a purplish comb, or has watery diarrhea and reduced egg production, remove her from the brood immediately and seek veterinary advice.
Allow your chickens plenty of room to move. Overcrowding is a significant risk factor in higher rates of illnesses. Factory farms often pump their chickens with antibiotics to curtail this problem. They are notorious for not even noticing a sick or dead animal for days.
By simply allowing your chickens free-range on pasture and with access to the sun all day, it’ll work wonders for helping maintain their health.
Keeping your flock’s numbers to a respectful level for the size of your area and allowing them to forage.
I am not writing this here to freak you out or steer you away from eating eggs. Quite the opposite. I’m writing this to educate and to encourage you to keep on digging around to either find farmers who are practicing sustainable farming methods and supporting them in the process or electing to go out there and try it yourself. Even if you maintain organic farming principles, hygiene is important and care needed especially around handling animals and ESPECIALLY if you have small children lingering about.
I for one am kind of obsessed with eggs these days. The humble omelette being a favourite breakfast staple. I eat on average, 2 eggs a day. I will continue to do so. I’ve never experienced a case of Salmonella food poisoning myself. In fact, I can’t recall ever meeting someone who has.
Have you ever experienced Salmonella food poisoning? Where do you get your eggs from?
Image Credit: Timothy Titus
This post was also shared on “Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways“
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