Symptoms of campylobacter infection usually include diarrhea and stomach cramps. There can be more serious complications, especially among the young, elderly and ill.
According to the Daily Mail:
"Campylobacter was detected on the outside of the packaging of eight of the 20 samples, or 40 percent. The pathogen was found in the meat of seven samples -- 35 percent. What was interesting was that there was no link between the positive results they found on the meat itself and on the external packaging...
This clearly suggests the item had become contaminated at some stage between packaging and the chicken's arrival on the shelves."
Do we have to start handling our poultry packages as if they are hazardous waste? Although I make that remark kind of tongue-in-cheek, this latest study would suggest this is not so far from the truth. More glaring evidence of unsafe practices in our food industry—highlighting the need for farms to clean up their acts.
In terms of the bacterium Campylobacter, the latest statistics may surprise you.
Although Campylobacter rates have declined over the past decade, antibiotic resistant Campylobacter rates are climbing. This means that infections of this type are becoming more dangerous and more difficult to treat.
The latest CDC data reveals the following trends:
- Campylobacter is the fourth leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S., behind Norovirus, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens.
- Campylobacter rates of infection have actually decreased by 25 percent over the last decade (but are still unacceptably high).
- CDC projects that 845,024 people will contract Campylobacter infections in 2011; of those, 8,463 (15 percent) will require hospitalization, and 76 will die.
The most common form of Campylobacter causing human disease is C. jejuni. Campylobacter bacteria are unique in that they secrete an exotoxin that is similar to cholera toxin, although the immunological significance of this remains unclear.
Like Salmonella, the incubation period for Campylobacter is typically between 1 and 3 days, but symptoms can appear in as little as two hours, according to the FDA's "Bad Bug Book".
The primary symptoms of Campylobacter poisoning are the following:
- Abdominal cramping
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bloody diarrhea
The only way to determine if you have Campylobacter versus another foodborne infection, such as Salmonella, is by having your stool tested.
If you are found to have Campylobacter infection, you will likely recover on your own without treatment within two to five days, providing you drink plenty of fluids to prevent becoming dehydrated. In rare cases, Campylobacter can cause far more serious problems than a miserable case of gastrointestinal distress.
Campylobacter and Guillain-Barré Syndrome
A type of arthritis, as well as neurological problems, have been reported secondary to Campylobacter poisoning, although these reactions are not common.
One serious complication of Campylobacter is Guillain-Barré (G-B) syndrome, a relatively rare neurological disease characterized by progressive weakening of your muscles. Although other bacteria can trigger G-B syndrome, Campylobacter is thought to be responsible for nearly half of all G-B cases in the United States.
The climbing rates of antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter infections, in addition to other superbugs, is largely attributable to the overuse of antibiotics—a practice that remains rampant in the conventional poultry farming industry.
Agricultural Antibiotic Overuse has Created Tougher Human Diseases
Antibiotic-resistant diseases have grown exponentially in recent years as a direct result of the vast overuse of antibiotics in both the medical system and conventional livestock farming, including poultry farms. Chicken products from conventional farms are actually up to 460 times more likely to carry antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains than organic, free-ranging, antibiotic-free chicken products.
In fact, antibiotic-resistant infections now shockingly claim more lives each year than the "modern plague" of AIDS, costing the American healthcare system some $20 billion per year.
How does giving chicken antibiotics increase your risk for developing an antibiotic-resistant infection?
Chickens and turkeys normally harbor Campylobacter in their digestive tracts without becoming ill. Antibiotics don't completely eliminate Campylobacter from the birds' intestinal tracts, so the surviving bacteria are the tougher ones that have resisted being killed off by the antibiotics. Those bacteria proliferate in the birds and end up being passed on to you—along with their antibiotic-resistance.
Campylobacter bacteria are found on chicken carcasses in slaughterhouses and in commercial poultry products—and now, we discover, even on the outside of poultry packaging—where they can easily infect you, your children, or your pets.
The worst scenario is when healthy chickens, as well as sick ones, are given antibiotics unnecessarily.
Chickens, cattle and hogs are often fed antibiotics, not only to treat disease but also, and primarily, to make them grow faster, increasing profit margins for livestock producers. According to the first-ever report by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this subject, livestock farms used a whopping 29 million pounds of antibiotics in 2009 alone.
Clearly, agricultural antibiotic use is the smoking gun explaining the growing trend of these antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which now show up in both animals and people.
Beware of Deceptive Labeling on Your Poultry Products
Studies have shown that when you reduce the use of antibiotics in meat production, human disease caused by antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria is significantly reduced as well.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found it was rare to find drug-resistant bacteria among antibiotic-free chicken, while the majority of bacterial isolates from conventionally raised poultry were drug-resistant. The researchers concluded antibiotic use in poultry might harm humans' health over time.
Still, the U.S. meat industry is extremely resistant to the idea of getting rid of these drugs, and I don't think we'll see any major change in this area unless or until laws are enacted to curtail its use.
Until then, it's up to YOU to make good choices about the products you purchase.
But labels can be deceiving. Less-than-ethical manufacturers are coming up with new and trickier ways to fool you. A prime example is Tyson Foods, the second largest chicken processor in the U.S., which injects its chickens with antibiotics before they hatch—and then labels them as "raised without antibiotics."
I personally recommend ONLY organic pasture-raised chickens, since non-medical use of antibiotics is not permitted in organic farming. Not only are these products safer, but they have a superior nutritional profile as well.
Look for the USDA Organic seal.
Keeping Your Immune System Strong is Key
The best way to protect yourself from a Campylobacter infection is to strengthen your immune system. This is ideally done through daily lifestyle choices that support your overall health, such as:
- Avoiding sugar, grains, and processed food, and eating plenty of organic raw foods
- Getting plenty of deep, restorative sleep
- Finding a way to diffuse the stress life throws at you (my favorite tool is EFT)
- Incorporating plenty of regular exercise each week
- Optimizing your vitamin D through sun exposure, or supplementation, if needed
- Taking a high-quality probiotic, which will help populate your gastrointestinal tract with GOOD bacteria—your best defense against bad bacteria like Campylobacter
Back to Basics: The Hand Washing Primer
Good old-fashioned hand washing is one of the oldest and most powerful antibacterial treatments. Despite our increasingly high-tech society and the introduction of antimicrobial soaps and harsh disinfectants, plain soap and water still can't be beat.
If you've handled meat or poultry products in the grocery store—and this applies even if you've only touched the wrapper—it would be a good idea to wash your hands before you do anything else. This also applies to your children, who may have fingered the goodies in your cart! To make sure you're actually removing the germs when you wash your hands, follow these hand-washing guidelines:
- Use warm water and a mild soap
- Work up a good lather, all the way up to your wrists, for at least 10 or 15 seconds
- Make sure you cover all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and around and below your fingernails
- Rinse thoroughly under running water
- In public places, use a paper towel to open the door, since door handles are prolific germ breeding grounds.
Antibacterial soap and waterless, alcohol-based hand wipes are unnecessary and actually contribute to the problem of bacterial resistance. Most are also too drying and contain chemicals you don't want on your skin or absorbed into your body.
Since the outside of poultry packaging may be contaminated, it might also be a good idea to place meat products in a separate bag, decreasing the opportunity for cross-contamination with the other items in your cart, like produce.
Even if you are buying organic, free-ranging poultry products, a clean product could have become contaminated right there at the grocery store by sharing the meat bin with contaminated products—all it takes is physical contact between packages. Once you are home, kitchen hygiene is the next important step in preventing foodborne illness.
How to Make Your Kitchen Undesirable to Undesirables
Surprisingly, it's your KITCHEN, not your bathroom, that's the most popular microbe hangout in your home. Studies have shown that 50 to 80 percent of foodborne illnesses result from food prepared at home.
Raw meat is the main source of disease-causing bacteria in your kitchen. The highest levels of contamination are in damp areas, such as your kitchen sponge or dishcloth, kitchen drains, and the faucet handle.
Here is where you can actually use your microwave safely and effectively: research has shown that zapping your WET sponge or dishcloth in the microwave for just two minutes is enough to kill 99 percent of the living pathogens.
For other tips on safe, nontoxic cleaning of your home, take a look at two of my former articles, If You Knew How Dangerous Green Cleaning Products Were, You'd Go Back to Soap and Water and How to Keep Your Home Clean Naturally.