Fresh chicken contamination warning

By Jessica Tyson

Researches are calling for warning labels on fresh chicken after a new study found most people are unaware of the level of campylobacter contamination found on the meat.

The study by the University of Otago in Wellington found that only 15 percent of consumers were aware that up to 90 per cent of fresh chicken meat for sale in New Zealand is contaminated with campylobacter.

The bacteria is a severe form of gastroenteritis that hospitalises around 600 New Zealanders each year and paralyses an estimated 30.

Researcher Philip Allan says New Zealand has one of the highest rates of campylobacteriosis in the world and at least half of cases can be attributed to contaminated chicken.

“Our study showed that many consumers are not aware of the risks and that retailers should do much more to inform shoppers.”

He says while most survey participants were aware of the need to thoroughly cook chicken, many were unaware that rinsing fresh chicken under the tap could spread the infection or that freezing chicken reduced campylobacter contamination.

“And yet there is no requirement to include safety information on fresh poultry packaged in supermarkets or butchers.  Where labels are present the font is often tiny and barely readable.  No labels even mentioned the word ‘Campylobacter’,” says researcher Professor Michael Baker.

The researchers emphasise that the most effective way to reduce campylobacteriosis rates is for the Ministry of Primary Industries to mandate lower contamination levels of fresh poultry.