Around half of all fresh store-bought chicken in Ireland is contaminated with campylobacter, a food-poisoning bug that thrives in poultry and can cause infections in humans.
Dr Lisa O’Connor, chief specialist in food science at the FSAI, said they are aware of the problem and admits it poses a “significant challenge” for the consumer.
“Overall, around 50% of all chickens at retail level are contaminated with campylobacter,” she said.
“The three main things people can do to combat this is to not wash their chickens, this only spreads the bacteria through water splashes, etc, prevent cross-contamination by washing hands, utensils and surfaces after handling raw chicken, and by cooking the chicken thoroughly. Cooking kills the campylobacter.”
Dr O’Connor also revealed 93% of chicken carcasses in Ireland had the bacteria in 2011, showing the problem has actually improved in recent years.
She said there was no “magic bullet” to eradicate the bacteria, and it would take “little steps” to bring down contamination levels.
Campylobacter contamination has also risen in Britain, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). A new report reveals every major retailer in Britain failed to meet targets to reduce the food poisoning bug.
The FSA said the cumulative results from the first two quarters of its year-long survey of fresh chickens found 70% tested positive for campylobacter, up from 59% in August.
Almost a fifth of all chickens (18%) tested positive for the bug, while 6% of packaging tested positive – up from 4% in August.
The FSA also named rates among retailers for the first time, revealing Asda sold the highest percentage of contaminated chickens (78%) — 12% of their packaging also tested positive.
Almost three-quarters of chickens (73%) sold by the Co-operative tested positive, followed by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose (69%), Marks & Spencer (67%) and Tesco (64%).
The FSA said Tesco was the only major retailer which had a lower incidence of chicken contaminated with campylobacter at the highest level compared with the industry average.
Asda was the only major retailer with a higher incidence of contaminated chicken.
However, the FSA said the results suggested that none of the retailers was achieving the joint industry end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.
It said the overall increase in contamination was most likely due to the second quarter’s samples being taken during the summer months.