Bacteria in chicken poses food poison risk to 180,000
UP to 180,000 people a year could be getting food poisoning from a dangerous bacteria found in nearly all Irish chicken as most cases are unreported, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has warned.
The authority called on all retailers to stop dragging their feet and protect their customers by packaging chicken in special leak-proof bags that reduce the risk of exposing people to campylobacter.
A new European Food Safety Authority report showed 98pc of Irish chicken was contaminated with campylobacter.
FSAI chief executive Professor Alan Reilly said that while official figures show 1,823 people here got food poisoning from it last year -- making it the number one food-borne illness -- the real rate is much higher as most people would not get tested.
"These are laboratory confirmed figures and the real rate of infection could be 10 to 100 times higher", he said.
That would mean over 180,000 people could be infected each year, and though in most cases the illness is a nasty but short-lived stomach bug, it can be life-threatening in more vulnerable people such as babies and the elderly.
Mr Reilly said they had found up to 19pc of conventional chicken packets contained campylobacter on the outside, making it easy to cross-contaminate other food even if consumers were careful about cooking chicken carefully to kill the bug, while 11pc of supermarket display shelves were also contaminated.
They had been highlighting to retailers since before Christmas the need to package chicken in leak-proof packaging, but many retailers had still not done so, citing higher cost.
"Leak-proof packaging can provide a significant barrier to the spread of campylobacter and we have asked retailers to source chicken products from producers using leak-proof packaging," Mr Reilly said.
Some retailers now use better packaging with deeper trays and sealed wrapping to replace cling-film, but others needed to do more, he said.
It would be impossible to eliminate campylobacter from the food chain, but its level could be substantially reduced if measures such as this were acted on.
Irish Farmers Association poultry chairman Alo Mohan said that, unfortunately, the Irish climate was a "perfect breeding ground" for campylobacter in that it thrived in wet and humid conditions, whereas it was at a much lower rate in cold countries such as Finland and in hot Mediterranean countries.
"The fact that it's at 98pc here compared 60 or 70pc in some other countries doesn't make any difference at all.
"You have to handle all poultry as if it could have it and take all the necessary precautions such as thorough cooking."