Food watchdog issues bag-chicken warning over poisoning risk

Safety authority voices concern at sharp rise in illness caused by Campylobacter bug

The number of cases of food poisoning caused by Campylobacter rose to a record 2,600 last year, compared to 2,288 in 2013. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The number of cases of food poisoning caused by Campylobacter rose to a record 2,600 last year, compared to 2,288 in 2013. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The Food Safety Authority wants retailers to provide bags for customers buying chicken products so the risk of food poisoning can be minimised.

The authority has expressed alarm at a sharp rise in the incidence of the most common form of foodborne illness, campylobacteriosis, last year.

The number of cases of food poisoning caused by Campylobacter rose to a record 2,600 last year, compared to 2,288 in 2013. The number of Irish cases continues to rise while the incidence in Europe generally has started to decline.

The bacterium, which occurs naturally in the intestinal tract of livestock and poultry, is transmitted through a variety of animal foods, but most commonly chicken. Ten times more common than salmonella, it can cause acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea and vomiting, and can be life-threatening in the very young and old.

Ready-to-eat foods

The authority says retailers need to review their food safety management systems to control the risk of Campylobacter spreading to ready-to-eat foods. Where conventional packaging is used, it recommends the provision of bags to protect leakage and cross-contamination.

Chicken flocks should be tested for the bacterium before slaughter and processors and retailers should co-fund this programme, it said.

It added that a hygiene standard for poultry meat should be introduced at a European level, to include a maximum tolerance for the bug. A similar approach for salmonella has proved successful and the incidence of this bacterium on public health has been greatly reduced.

The danger posed by Campylobacter can be removed by thoroughly cooking products and preventing cross-contamination with other foods.