Salmonella cases in the thousands

The Czech Republic is going through another heatwave this week and with temperatures in the low 30's many Czechs are reaching for refreshments such as ice-cream, salads, and their famous open sandwiches. What many fail to realise, however, is that all of these foods contain dairy products such as eggs and mayonnaise, which are often full of the Salmonella bacteria. Although the number of cases of Salmonella has been dropping over the years, the State Health Institute has already reported 11.000 cases this year alone. Earlier today, Radio Prague spoke to Prague's Chief Health Officer Dr Vladimir Polanecky to find out why so many Czechs suffer from this bacterial infection:

"The reason is rather simple. In the past ten years, the Czech Republic experienced a one hundred percent increase in the consumption of chicken. This can be attributed to the BSE - or Mad Cow disease - scare that started in Great Britain. The problem is that the chicken is not cooked properly in homes but also in canteens and restaurants."

According to Mr Polanecky, one of the main reasons behind the large number of Salmonella cases was the privatisation process in the years which followed the fall of communism. With the opening of numerous new shops and restaurants, which were often run by in-experienced managers, the question of hygiene was rarely addressed. It is only in the last couple of years that things began to improve. Although a significant improvement has been seen in shops, people at home and in restaurants still fail to see the importance of the proper preparation and storage of food.

"The biggest number of cases is found among babies and one to four year olds, because they are being fed with a lot of risky food such as eggs. This is because they are affordable, easy and quick to prepare and basically make things easier for mothers. For these reasons, we find many children eating such products although they really should not. Another group of people at risk is workers who eat at canteens or have quick lunches and then there are the elderly who go through the worst symptoms and sometimes may even die."

Mr Polanecky also warned of two trends that have become quite popular in the country in the past few years - microwave cooking and barbecuing. Most Czechs fail to realise that the cheaper, more popular microwaves are not suitable for cooking meat. As far as barbecuing is concerned, most of those who contract the Salmonella bacteria do so because they simply lack patience and go for the quicker and more juicy meat. So what should Czechs be wary of? How can they avoid picking up the bacteria? Dr Polanecky once more:

"There are three rules. People should buy their food from shops and not stalls or on the street. The second rule is that all the risky food has to be transported properly - even in this hot weather Czechs do not bother to take the food home in cooling bags. The third rule is to properly cook and prepare food. Chicken, for example, should be cooked at a minimum heat of 70 degrees Celsius for at least ten to fifteen minutes and eggs should be boiled for twelve minutes until hard. The popular ways of preparing them such as scrambling, poaching or soft-boiling are no longer safe options."