The Institute of Food Research fully backs the Food Standards Agency’s call for people to stop washing raw chicken, to reduce the risk of contracting Campylobacter. The message, being launched in Food Safety Week, is a crucial part in a strategy to reduce the estimated 280,000 cases of food poisoning that Campylobacter causes annually in the UK.
The IFR is also part of this strategy, focusing on better understanding the way the bacteria survive in different stages of its lifecycle. This knowledge feeds into the wider strategy, which involves regulators, the food industry, producers, retailers, research funding bodies and the government working together to reduce the levels of Campylobacter contamination in the food chain. This sort of integrated approach, backed by sound scientific evidence, will be needed to develop effective control measures, but consumers will always have to take simple precautions. Not washing chicken, which spreads the bacteria around the kitchen, is an important part of this, together with maintaining good kitchen hygiene. Making sure that the chicken is properly cooked, which kills that bacteria, is also crucial. The focus on Campylobacter during Food Safety Week is a great way of highlighting this.
Dr Arnoud van Vliet
Arnoud van Vliet leads IFR’s Campylobacter research. He is particularly focusing on how Campylobacter can survive in the different environments it encounters in the food chain.
“We’ve found that Campylobacter is very well equipped to survive as it passes through the food chain, both in food and on external surfaces, like kitchen utensils. That is why it’s important you don’t spread the bacteria by washing the chicken meat,” said Arnoud. “We’ve seen how it’s very effective at causing disease once it does get in, so either keeping it out of the food we eat with good hygiene or killing it by proper cooking is essential.”
Check out the Food Standards Agency’s tips for safe handling of chicken here: http://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/campaigns/campylobacter/fsw-2014
Campylobacter are bacteria, of which some species, in particular Campylobacter jejuni, cause illness in humans. They are the leading cause of foodborne illness in the UK, with an around 280,000 reported cases, although there may be many more unreported cases. Campylobacter jejuni are particularly adapted to survive in the gastrointestinal tracts of birds, and eating contaminated poultry meat is the most common cause of infection in humans. Poultry infected with Campylobacter show no symptoms of infection, hindering detection. But in humans, infection causes abdominal cramps and diarrhoea for up to five days. In very rare cases, it can lead to Guillain–Barré syndrome, a type of paralysis,a dn even death. Young children and the elderly are particularly at risk.
- According to estimates from 2008, up to 65% of poultry may be contaminated with Campylobacter.The FSA, Defra and BBSRC have prioritised reducing this figure, to reduce the number of cases, and the almost £1billion cost to the economy. But it is likely that it will never be totally eradicated, so proper handling and hygiene is needed. Campylobacter is killed by proper cooking – chicken must be steaming all the way through, with no pink meat, and the juices running clear. Campylobacter can survive on kitchen surfaces, utensils and other foods so cross0contamination must be avoided. Washing chicken can spread the microscopic bacteria. Chopping boards and other utensils that come into contact with raw meat must be properly washed and cleaned. And hands should be washed with soap and warm after handling raw chicken. Raw meat should also be stored below 5°C, which helps reduce bacterial growth. Raw meat should be covered, and kept near the bottom of the fridge to prevent contamination of other foods.