Healthy living

One in five chickens contaminated with food-poisoning bug

One in five chickens contaminated with food-poisoning bug Thorough cooking and good hygiene needed

One in five supermarket chickens is contaminated with bacteria that can cause food poisoning, according to research by Which?

A survey of chicken samples from nine supermarkets by the consumer watchdog found 18 per cent were contaminated with campylobacter bacteria, the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK.

And 17 per cent were contaminated with listeria, with four per cent containing levels classed as "high" by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Salmonella, another food poisoning bacterium, was also found in 1.5 per cent of the samples tested.

The samples tested included 192 whole chickens and chicken portions reared in the UK purchased from Aldi, Asda, The Co-operative, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose. 

Bacterial contamination was found in samples from every retailer tested, Which? said.

Campylobacter is thought to be responsible for 371,000 cases of food poisoning in England and Wales in 2009, resulting in more than 17,500 hospital admissions and 88 deaths, according to the Food Standards Agency.

The bacterium is found in poultry, red meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water, but thoroughly cooking meats will kill any bacteria present and good hygiene can prevent other foods becoming contaminated. 

Which? said its results appear to indicate an improvement on an FSA survey carried out in 2009, which found that 65 per cent of fresh chickens tested were contaminated with campylobacter at the point of sale.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "While the situation is improving, it is unacceptable that one in five chickens we tested were found to be contaminated with campylobacter. 

"We want to see the risk of contamination minimised at every stage of production, because for far too long consumers have been expected to clean up mistakes made earlier in the food chain."

Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said: "This report makes clear that chicken is a safe and healthy product when properly cooked. The British poultry industry is committed to working with consumer groups, government and retailers to ensure chicken is safe and healthy."

Which? said consumers can reduce the risk of food poisoning by always washing hands after handling raw chicken; keeping chicken refrigerated at or below 5ºC; not washing raw chicken as this could splash the bacteria onto the sink, worktops or nearby dishes, increasing cross contamination; storing chicken in sealed containers at the bottom of the fridge away from ready-to-eat foods such as ham and salad and cooking chicken thoroughly - temperatures above 70ºC (165ºF) will kill bacteria.

This article was published on Fri 13 April 2012

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