More than 80% of people in Northern Ireland don't know the name of the bug that is the most common cause of food poisoning, according to a survey.
The Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland (FSA in NI) said that while 90% are familiar with bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli, only 19% had ever heard of Campylobacter, which is commonly found in raw chicken.
FSA in NI and the all-Ireland body, safefood are urging people to stop washing raw chicken to reduce the risk of contracting Campylobacter, which can lead to food poisoning, as part of Food Safety Week (16-22 June).
The agencies also advise that chicken must be steaming hot all the way through with no pink meat and stored at 5 degrees or below, covered and at the bottom of the fridge to prevent juices cannot drip onto other foods.
Campylobacter on the increase
Public Health Agency figures for Northern Ireland show that Campylobacter poisoning has been on the increase since 2008.
Last year an estimated 1,355 people were affected – a rise from 1,211 cases in 2012.
FSA believes that around four in five of these cases come from contaminated poultry.
Dr Michael McBride, the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, said: “New figures also show that over a third of people here always wash chicken before cooking it – a practice that can spread Campylobacter bacteria onto hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment through the splashing of water droplets.
“Campylobacter is a spiral-shaped bacterium that is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. Those most at risk from campylobacter are children under five and older people -because their immune systems are weaker.”
US researchers ran a ‘Don’t wash your chicken’ campaign following study results last year, including an infographic and video message.
Washing raw chicken risks cross contamination and spreading foodborne pathogens.
People may think they’re cleaning off germs and wanting to get the slime off or feeling like it’s dirty, found the researchers.
Reasons for washing chicken
In the UK-wide survey the most cited reasons people gave for washing chicken were the removal of dirt (40%) getting rid of germs (37%) or because a parent or relative did/does so (31%).
Maria Jennings, director of FSA in NI, said: “Although people tend to follow recommended practice when handling poultry, such as washing hands after touching raw chicken and making sure it is thoroughly cooked, our research has found that washing raw chicken is also common.
“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.”
In Wales, the survey found 48% of people always wash chicken before cooking it.
Almost 90% of people had heard of Salmonella (88%) and E.coli (87%), but only 32% knew about Campylobacter.
In Scotland, 45% of people always wash chicken before cooking it, according to the FSA-commissioned survey.
Over 90% of people had heard of Salmonella (92%) and E.coli (91%), but only 30% of people know about Campylobacter.