Washing raw chicken before cooking it can increase your risk of food poisoning from campylobacter.
Splashing water from washing chicken under a tap can spread the bacteria on to hands, work surfaces, clothing and cooking equipment.
Water droplets can travel more than 50cm in every direction and only a few campylobacter cells are needed to cause food poisoning.
Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, affecting 280,000 people a year, including more than 100 deaths.
Around four in five cases of campylobacter infection come from poultry and it is estimated that 65% of the chicken sold in the UK carries the bacteria.
Campylobacter poisoning can cause abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea, fever and vomiting.
Symptoms usually develop two to five days after eating the contaminated food, but most people recover without treatment within to two to five days.
In some cases, campylobacter infection can cause irritable bowel syndrome, reactive arthritis, miscarriage and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
It can be fatal in young children, the elderly, and people who have a weakened immune system, such as those with HIV and cancer.
Cleaning raw chicken or washing off visible blood does not make it any more hygienic or remove bacteria – only thorough cooking achieves this.
Freezing raw chicken reduces levels of Campylobacter but does not eliminate it completely. The safest way to kill all traces of Campylobacter is by cooking chicken thoroughly.
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The advice itself is not new, but the call has been issued after a survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) found 44% of people still wash chicken before cooking.
The survey also found that while most people (90%) have heard of salmonella and E.coli, only 28% of people know about campylobacter.
“Campylobacter causes more cases of food poisoning than E.coli, listeria and salmonella put together,” said an FSA spokesman.
Prevent campylobacter poisoning
1. Cover and chill raw chicken
Cover raw chicken and store it at the bottom of the fridge so juices cannot drip on to other foods and contaminate them with food poisoning bacteria such as campylobacter.
2. Don’t wash raw chicken
Cooking will kill any bacteria present, including campylobacter, while washing chicken can spread germs by splashing.
3. Wash used utensils
Thoroughly wash and clean all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling raw chicken. This helps stop the spread of campylobacter.
4. Cook chicken thoroughly
Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut into the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.
Treating campylobacter poisoning
Self-treatment involves drinking lots of water and taking oral rehydration salts to avoid dehydration, resting and eating easily digested foods if you feel up to it. Severe infections may be treated with antibiotics.
You should seek medical advice if you have any of the following signs or symptoms:
- vomiting that lasts more than two days
- you are unable to keep liquids down for more than a day
- diarrhoea that lasts for more than three days
- blood in your vomit
- blood in your stools
- seizures (fits)
- changes in your mental state, such as confusion
- double vision
- slurred speech
- signs of severe dehydration, such as a dry mouth, sunken eyes, and an inability to pass urine, or passing small amounts of dark, strong-smelling urine
Always contact your GP if you get food poisoning during pregnancy. Extra precautions may be needed.
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