Consumers are largely unaware of the main cause of food poisoning on the island of Ireland.
A new report by Safefood, the all-Ireland food safety promotion body, found a general lack of knowledge among Irish consumers that Campylobacter — a bacteria commonly found in poultry — is the principal cause of food-related illnesses.
The vast majority believed Salmonella or E.coli were the most common bacteria linked to food poisoning.
Not only was there no awareness of the primary role of Campylobacter in causing food-related illness, only 5% of Irish consumers in a survey of more than 2,000 individuals identified it as a bacteria that could cause food poisoning.
However, 20% claimed they had heard of Campylobacter. It is the leading cause of bacterial food poisoning in the Republic and Northern Ireland with 3,772 cases reported in 2015.
The World Health Organisation had identified the Campylobacter bacteria as one of the four main causes of diarrhoeal diseases in the world and the main cause of human gastroenteritis.
The bacteria can normally be killed by heat and thoroughly cooking food.
Although infections are generally mild, they can be potentially fatal for very young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
The main food associated with Campylobacter food poisoning is poultry including chicken, turkey, ducks and game.
Common causes of infection in poultry flocks are reduced levels of biosecurity, the presence of other animals close to poultry, use of ventilators, a lack of fly screens, transport vehicles and farm equipment and workers.
The report found the origin of meat bacteria was not something that most consumers had ever considered with few realising that food processors were a potential cause of spreading the bacteria.
The Safefood report, which was carried out by a team of researchers at UCD, found Irish consumers place their trust in retailers to sell them safe food.
“Consumers tend to abdicate or give over, the responsibility of delivering a high-quality product to retailers. This trust is usually combined with assumptions that the product is fully traceable and adheres to appropriate quality marks,” the report found.
While there is a range of food processing measures available to reduce the overall contamination of food by Campylobacter, some are not regarded as acceptable by consumers.
Some methods are regarded as affecting the taste, smell, texture and appearance of the meat.
The report found the reaction of consumers to various decontamination methods was strongly influenced by the language used to describe them.
Most Irish consumers preferred methods which they perceived as “natural” and non-invasive and showed a dislike for irradiation and organic and chemical washes.
The most preferred method was forced air chilling — a process involving high-speed cold air passing over the surface of the chicken — which was favoured by 55% of respondents.
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