It was the wedding reception from hell – 49 wedding guests pole-axed by food poisoning, the newlyweds confined to their honeymoon hotel, gripped with gut pain, and a function centre fined for sloppy food hygiene. The cause of these problems, reported in the UK Daily Mail last month, was ill-prepared duck liver pate contaminated by Campylobacter, a type of bacteria found in poultry.
You don't need an overseas trip to bump into Campylobacter. It's now the most commonly reported cause of food poisoning in Australia, with most of the 17,700 notifiable cases reported last year and 7500 cases so far this year thought to be foodborne.
"As in the UK, the numbers of food poisoning cases linked to Campylobacter in under cooked poultry liver pâté or parfait (a smoother kind of pate) has increased in Australia too," says Juliana Madden, Executive Director of the Food Safety Information Council.
The cause of this increase in cases sourced to poultry livers could be a growing fashion for liver pate – or better food surveillance by health authorities. Either way, it means we need to be clearer about what flesh foods are okay to eat rare and what aren't, says Madden.
Although we're generally aware that undercooked chicken is risky, we're less cluey about duck – a debate on the safety or otherwise of undercooked duck broke out on Chew on This recently, with some readers convinced that underdone duck is fine. Wrong, says Madden, stressing that any type of poultry needs thorough cooking all the way through because of the risk of even healthy birds harbouring Salmonella and Campylobacter.
How can you tell if poultry is cooked enough? It's not always easy to tell – with duck, for instance, its flesh can still look reddish even when it's cooked, she says – so the safest way is to insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the bird such as the thigh to check that it's reached 75 degrees. As for cooking poultry livers for pate (or cooking any offal) searing on the outside isn't enough - Madden suggests slicing offal thinly and sauteing on a moderate heat covered with a lid so it's thoroughly cooked but still moist.
Another pitfall is having an uncooked marinade to baste poultry and or meat during cooking - and then using the leftover marinade as a sauce for the cooked food.
"Unless the marinade is cooked, this is like covering the cooked chicken or duck in a Salmonella and Campylobacter soup, and negating one of the main reasons we cook our food," she says.
Do most of us realise that while whole cuts of meat like a steak, chop or roasts are fine to eat rare, that undercooked burgers, sausages or rolled meat are risky? No, says Madden - research by the Council found that although most people knew you had to cook rolled turkey all the way through, only about 50 per cent knew you had to do the same with rolled lamb.
The point to understand here is that while poultry can carry potentially harmful bacteria inside and out, with whole pieces of meat or with fish the bugs are only on the outside. This means that when you grill, sear or bake the meat these bugs are killed. But mincing or rolling a piece of meat brings the outside surface of the meat - and its bacteria - into the inside, so it needs cooking all the way through.
It's a bit like washing socks, says Madden.
"We don't fold our socks into each other to wash them and then expect them to be as clean as if we threw each sock into the machine separately. The water needs to touch each surface for the socks to be properly clean – and it's the same with meat. The heat has to reach all surfaces for the bugs to be killed and the food properly cooked, which takes time."
Has a bout of food poisoning made you more cautious about what you eat?