More than 80% of people in Northern Ireland don’t know the name of the bug that is the most common cause of food poisoning here, says a new study by the Food Standards Agency in NI.
The Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland (FSA in NI) and safefood are working with Magherafelt District Council, urging people to stop washing raw chicken to reduce the risk of contracting campylobacter, which can lead to a potentially dangerous form of food poisoning.
The UK-wide research, launched today to mark the start of Food Safety Week, (June 16-22) shows that while 90% of people in Northern Ireland are familiar with the names of other bacteria like salmonella and E.coli, only 19% had ever heard of campylobacter (cam-pie-lo-bac-tor), which is commonly found in raw chicken.
Dr Kirsten Dunbar, from the Food Standards Agency in NI said: “Although people often wash their hands after touching raw chicken and make sure that it is thoroughly cooked, our research has found over a third of people here always wash chicken before cooking it and this can spread campylobacter bacteria onto hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment through splashing water.”
“Campylobacter is a serious issue. You can’t see it, smell it or even taste it on food, but if it affects you, you really won’t forget it! The resulting illness can cause abdominal pain, as well as severe diarrhoea and vomiting. In certain cases, it can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, reactive arthritis and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious condition of the nervous system. At its worst, it can kill.”
Fergal Mullan, Environmental Health representative for Magherafelt District Council said: “There is no need to wash raw chicken as thorough cooking kills any bacteria. We are supporting the FSA’s message telling people to, ‘stop washing raw chicken’ and we hope this will raise better understanding of the risks of contracting campylobacter.
“Our officer’s advice is to wash the utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken as well as washing your hands. Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before you eat it - with no pink meat - and check that the juices run clear.”
More than 90% of the Northern Ireland public have heard of salmonella and E. coli, but only 19% of people know about campylobacter. And of those who have heard of campylobacter, only 19% of them know that poultry is the main source of the bacteria. The most cited reasons people gave for washing chicken were the removal of dirt (40%) getting rid of germs (37%) or because a parent or relative did/does so (31%).
Dr Linda Gordon, safefood’s Chief Specialist in Food Science said: “To avoid campylobacter poisoning, we recommend covering raw chicken and storing it at the bottom of the fridge so juices cannot drip on to other foods and contaminate them.”
For more information on the FSA’s campylobacter campaign, and for guidance on the safest way to handle chicken, visit food.gov.uk/chicken or safefood.eu