Safety matters: Poultry

In the United Kingdom (UK) this week, we are celebrating Food Safety Week (June 16–22). This year, the annual awareness campaign is focused on the safety of raw chicken and foodborne pathogen risks from not storing, preparing or handling properly.

At Neogen, we focus on food safety for consumers and have outlined some information below on how to keep you and your family safe. This is an installment in our “Safety Matters” series. Click on the links to learn more about ground beef, steak, hot dogs and vegetables.

First of all: Don’t wash raw chicken

That’s right, go against everything your food safety brain tells you to do. Washing chicken = cleaner chicken = less foodborne pathogen risk. Not so, say researchers. In fact, washing your raw poultry may actually increase your chances of food poisoning.

The reasoning is that washing the raw chicken may indeed remove any foodborne pathogen from the chicken … but it could splash to other areas of your kitchen: backsplashes, utensils, parts of your body, sink handles, etc. Check out this video from New Mexico University:

 Why are we so focused on Campylobacter?

Coming from raw and undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk and contaminated water, this foodborne illness can be pretty unpleasant — and is unfortunately very common.

Symptoms of Campylobacter infection include (potentially bloody) diarrhea, cramps, fever and vomiting.

It is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, with more than 280,000 cases each year. Additionally, the illness, also known as campylobacteriosis, can cost the UK economy about £900 and about 100 people their lives. (It is also a problem in the U.S., with rates of the pathogen on the rise.)

The pathogen can be found everywhere. A report from May 2007 through September 2008 reported Campylobacter findings present in 65% of fresh chicken samples in the UK.

How can I ensure my chicken is safe to eat without washing?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has provided four rules for preventing the pathogen from causing food poisoning.

  1. Cover and chill raw chicken, being sure to keep your fridge at or below 5°C/41°F. It is also best practice to store at the bottom of the refrigerator to eliminate risk of juices dripping onto other foods.
  2. Don’t wash raw chicken. See above.
  3. Wash used utensils. Like all food preparation, it is important to thoroughly wash and clean utensils, chopping boards and surfaces that have come into contact with raw food.
  4. Cook chicken properly. Poultry must reach an inner temperature of 73.89°C/165°F. When cutting open, chicken must be hot with no pink meat and clear juices.

 What is being done to reduce risk in the bigger market?

The FSA is implementing quarterly tests of chicken; results will be announced in 2015. Across the board in the UK, people are working together to reduce likelihood of this all-too-common food poisoning. For information, click here.

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