Chicken cooking up nasty bugs, says report
Chicken is making Kiwis sick and spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers calling for safety labels on raw poultry products say.
A study by University of Otago, Wellington, labelled the country as having one of the highest rates – an estimated 30,000 illnesses and about 600 hospital admissions each year – of campylobacteriosis in the world.
The bacterial infection most commonly causes ‘‘gastro’’ and in some cases, a paralysing illness called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Sixty to 90 per cent of the fresh chicken on our shelves has high levels of the contaminating bacteria, which most consumers are unaware of, the report says.
Infectious diseases researcher Michael Baker said campylobacter was New Zealand’s ‘‘No 1 food safety problem’’.
He said the study identified gaps in the country’s possible prevention of the bacterial infection through raw chicken, which was also linked to spreading antibioticresistant bacteria.
‘‘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’.’’
One of the Otago study’s authors, Philip Allan, said at least half of New Zealand’s cases of campylobacteriosis could be attributed to contaminated chicken.
The study surveyed 401 Wellington shoppers outside 12 supermarkets and six butcher shops, and assessed information on raw chicken products in those stores.
Of the people surveyed, 89 per cent said they bought, prepared or cooked chicken but only a quarter knew about the possibility of contamination.
Over half the shoppers wanted large, brightly coloured warning label with safety information and preparation information.
‘‘Safety and correct preparation information on chicken labels, was rated ‘very necessary’ or ‘essential’ by the majority of respondents,’’ the report said.
‘‘Supermarket chicken labels scored poorly for the quality of their food safety information.’’
Butchers’ labels were the worst offenders for a lack of chicken preparation information, the report added.
The report recommended the Ministry for Primary Industries order lower contamination levels, a measure implemented in 2007 which halved campylobacteriosis rates in New Zealand.
A mock-up of the food safety labels shoppers say they want to see on fresh chicken products.