Consumers have been warned washing raw chicken increases the risk of contracting campylobacter food poisoning.
The FSA has urged the public not to wash the meat after a survey found 44% of people wash chicken before cooking it – a practice the authority said could spread campylobacter bacteria onto hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment through splashed water droplets. The most cited reasons people gave for washing chicken were removing dirt (36%), getting rid of germs (36%) and that that they had always done it (33%).
Research commissioned by the FSA also found awareness of campylobacter was below that of other forms of food poisoning. More than 90% of the public had heard of salmonella and E.coli, said the authority, while only 28% of people know about campylobacter. The FSA added that, of the people who had heard of campylobacter, only 31% knew poultry was the main source of the bacteria. Campylobacter is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, and affects an estimated 280,000 people a year, with around 80% of these cases from contaminated poultry.
In addition to urging the public not to wash chicken, the FSA has written to TV production companies asking them to ensure people aren’t shown washing raw chicken on food programmes.
“Campylobacter is a serious issue. Not only can it cause severe illness and death, but it costs the economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year as a result of sickness absence and the burden on the NHS,” said FSA chief executive Catherine Brown.
“Telling the public about the risks and how to avoid them is just one part of our plan to tackle campylobacter,” she added. “We are leading a campaign that brings together the whole food chain, which includes working with farmers and producers to reduce rates of campylobacter in flocks of broiler chickens and ensuring that slaughterhouses and processors are taking steps to minimise the levels of contamination in birds. We are committed to acting on campylobacter and providing safer food for the nation.”
The FSA recently announced the launch of a 12-month project to test 4,000 supermarket chickens to assess levels of campylobacter contamination in the UK. It plans to publish the results of the testing quarterly.
In today’s announcement, the FSA cited the case of 67-year-old Hertfordshire woman Ann Edwards, who contracted campylobacter in 1997. “After contracting campylobacter poisoning I was ill for a week before being admitted to hospital with bladder failure,” said Edwards. “I couldn’t eat and was so de-hydrated that I lost almost two stones in weight. Shortly after, I developed [nervous system condition] Guillain-Barré syndrome, which left me paralysed from the chest down. I was in hospital for seven weeks and even now – 17 years later – I have no movement in my toes and rely on a walking stick. Physically, it has been the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”