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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 27th February 2012

Two programmes on the same day looked at food poisoning in the UK. The first, though I didn’t hear it until today’s repeat, was BBC Radio 4’s ‘Food Programme’ broadcast Sunday lunchtime and the second was ‘Countryfile’ on BBC 1 TV in the evening.

Narcissus, daffodil

Both programmes concentrated on poisonings arising from campylobacter in chickens. I’m not sure why this is suddenly topical because the problem has been around for some time. There were newspapers reports about it in October 2009 leading the NHS Choices ‘Behind the Headlines’ website to write this explanation of the situation.

Perhaps, the reason it is back in the news is that the 300,000 cases a year estimated by NHS Choices is now said to be nearer 700,000 and the 70 deaths a year is now 80. Whatever efforts are being made to reduce its prevalence seem to be failing because the 65% prevalence on chicken stated in 2009 is now said to be 70%.

Whilst freezing and proper cooking destroy the bacterium, the main concerns seem to be with restaurants preparing chicken liver pate using undercooked chicken livers and, at home, people washing chickens before cooking them because this tends to simply wash the bacterium onto other food that does not get cooked.

In the USA, processing plants wash chickens in a chlorinated solution and that kills the bacterium but, for reasons that neither programme explained, this is not permitted within the EU.

Also, yesterday, I was talking to someone about poisoning resulting from eating bulbs from the Narcissus genus, daffodils. No matter how many times I say it, I still find myself doubting that anyone would actually mistake daffodil bulbs for onions but that is what happens. I have heard a great many stories from people about their own experiences of suffering poisoning in this way.

Narcissus genus, daffodils

Generally, poisoning by daffodils does no more than cause an unpleasant stomach upset and, for most of the 700,000 cases of campylobacter poisoning that is what is experienced, which is why I find myself unable to answer the question that always comes up when I talk about daffodils; How many cases a year are there?

The difficulty about answering that question is that there are no available statistics because the majority of people who have told me their stories said they did not seek medical help and just assumed they had a bit of a ‘gippy tummy’, only later realising that they had consumed daffodil bulbs instead of onions.

Plus, there are all those people who never realise how their upset stomach has come about and just put it down to having eaten something dodgy without ever defining what that was.

As the daffodils come into bloom heralding the spring, you can relax knowing that they aren’t about to get into your dinner while they are flowering in the garden. But, if you do lift them to store through the summer, just remember to put them somewhere where no-one can get confused.

Remember that and don’t wash your chicken and you should be fine.


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