Chicken cook­ing up nasty bugs, says re­port

The Dominion Post - - News -

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.

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