When Food Becomes Foe

Warning, slightly grim pictures are contained in this post!

I’ve come across new culinary practises that, for the restaurant, seem to be new, exciting and unique but for a microbiologist they are an outbreak ready to happen!

In some of my lectures it has come to my attention that trends in unique (and often disgusting) food are often followed with outbreaks of food poisoning. In a lecture on Campylobacter a dish that involved pâté from deliberately undercooked chicken livers was highlighted in an outbreak of Campylobacter associated food borne disease. If undercooking the chicken livers wasn’t enough, the dish was also garnished with raw chicken blood, presumably to offer some extra flair to this mad meal!


I know that chefs must be briefed in the ways to prevent contamination of food and ways to prevent food poisoning in their customers. So why then do they insist on serving things like this? Just because you haven’t contaminated the food yourself, doesn’t mean that the bacteria weren’t already in there! Campylobacter are now known to penetrate deep muscle so can be present inside your chicken breast and not just on the surface! They’ve also been found inside chicken livers so maybe this is a matter of educating these culinary geniuses on a bit of microbiology to stop things like this happening in the future.

I’m also concerned about the people that eat this sort of food; why on earth would you want to eat something with a dollop of blood on top?! Yes, it may look like ketchup and you may be eating the next big thing but why? Just why!

Something else that came up was the vast amount of seafood that can potentially kill you. The phenomenon of eating puffer fish seems to be the most outrageous. This comical ocean dweller contains the tetradotoxin which is stored in its organs and can cause paralysis and death within 6- 24 hours of consuming it.

The presence or absence of this toxin is determined by the waters that the puffer fish lives in. If a bacterium called Alteromonas is present then this cute, spiky fish will harbour untold amounts of the toxin and eating just 7- 14g of flesh containing it can kill you! The fish is prepared for consumption in a way that means the organs are discarded but some chefs cut the meat very close to the organs so that you get a weird feeling when you eat it! The symptoms that you’re getting food poisoning are almost laughable: tingling of the tongue along with feelings of doom and thoughts of dying; eating pineapple whilst revising gives me those feelings!

This last one is quite ridiculous, and the picture will have you angling your head and recoiling in horror when you finally see which way round it goes! I shall give you the quote from the website that was in my lecture and let you digest it:


‘The intestines can be left inside and ate accordingly or removed after cooking, chopped and added to your sauce to thicken and impart flavour.

Woodcock is generally regarded as the superior to snipe, its flavour is quite superb and I always cook the bird with its intestines still in place and its head on, skinned with the neck twisted to allow the beak to be pushed through the legs and body for roasting.’

Who in their right mind would want to eat bird intestines? Yes, the microflora will possibly have been killed on cooking but why would you want to eat the digested food remains of an animal that eats insects? And the open beak? It sounds like the food industry is going back to the days of having a pig in the middle of the table with an apple in its mouth! I think the word ‘superb’ gives away the type of people that would enjoy this dish, not that I am stereotyping (I am) but a lowly student such as myself wouldn’t dream of preparing, let alone eating such a thing!

I think I will leave these sorts of dishes to the professionals and stick to my trusty Jamie Oliver, BBC Cheap Eats and Cooking for Students recipe books. I would prefer not to end up in hospital with agonising stomach cramps accompanied with vomiting and diarrhoea thank you!

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