A government food survey released yesterday has found that most raw chicken sold in the UK contains campylobacter, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning. The survey, by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), checked for the presence of campylobacter in over 3,000 samples of fresh chicken, and the results showed that 65% were contaminated with traces of the bacteria.
Campylobacter is estimated to cause 300,000 cases of food poisoning annually. While a number of newspaper reports today described it as a “deadly bug”, only around 70 of these cases are fatal each year.
However, the risk of food poisoning can be avoided by cooking meat thoroughly. This kills any campylobacter it contains. Good food hygiene while preparing raw poultry will prevent the bacterium from spreading to other food.
What is campylobacter?
Campylobacter is a type of bacteria that occurs in poultry, red meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water. It is the UK’s most common cause of bacterial food poisoning, thought to be responsible for around 300,000 cases each year.
While this new survey suggests that the majority of raw chicken sold contains the bacterium, cooking the meat thoroughly will kill the bacteria and prevent infection. Good food hygiene can also stop the bacteria spreading to other foods that are not going to be cooked.
How can I prevent food poisoning?
There are a number of simple ways to prevent food poisoning from campylobacter and other types of bacteria:
- Wash your hands properly, with soap and warm water, both before and after handling food.
- Ensure that raw meat does not come into contact with foods that are ready to eat, such as cooked meats or salads, as the bacteria can spread to them. Keep raw meat physically separate from these foods, and thoroughly clean all knives, chopping boards and work surfaces as these can collect and spread the bacteria from raw meat.
- Always cook food, especially poultry, until it is piping hot in the middle. You can check that meat is cooked properly by inserting a knife and making sure the juices are clear, and that there is no pink or red meat left. Proper cooking kills any campylobacter. For more details, see our information on food safety.
What are the symptoms of campylobacter poisoning?
There are a number of symptoms of campylobacter food poisoning, including diarrhoea (which can be severe and contain blood) and abdominal cramps. Vomiting is not normally a symptom.
Where can I get more information?
For further information from NHS Choices go to:
- Our guide to cooking chicken and turkey safely.
- Information on how to spot, prevent and treat food poisoning.
- Advice on keeping your home hygienic.
The Food Standards Agency also provides information on avoiding food-related illness:
Links to the headlines
BBC News, 7 October 2009
The Independent, 7 October 2009
The Daily Telegraph, 7 October 2009
Daily Express, 7 October 2009