Thousands poisoned by chicken bacteria
MORE than 2,000 people a year in Ireland are getting sick from a food bug which is mainly passed on through contaminated chicken.
Half the chicken on sale in Ireland contains the campylobacter bacteria, which caused 2,388 reported cases of food poisoning here in 2012, with thousands of more cases a year are believed to go unreported.
Despite concerted efforts to tackle the bug, the levels in Irish flocks have remained stubbornly high for the last decade. It remains the leading cause of food poisoning in Ireland.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said that a recent survey into campylobacter levels in retail chicken was being analysed, and the level of contamination appeared similar to the 50pc found in the last major survey 10 years ago.
FSAI chief food science specialist Dr Lisa O'Connor said that, despite concerted efforts to tackle campylobacter, the industry had not had the same success in reducing it as it had with salmonella.
An FSAI scientific committee formed a steering group in 2011 with representatives from the poultry industry, farming and consumer groups to find practical ways of reducing it.
The FSAI had also worked with industry to introduce leak-proof packaging for chicken, which meant it was less likely to cross-contaminate other foodstuffs if it came into contact with it in the shopping bag or fridge.
However, there was a major difficulty with reducing campylobacter infection in poultry flocks, as the chickens did not get sick from it, which made it difficult to detect, said Ms O'Connor.
This meant it was vital that consumers took great care in cooking and handling chicken in order to stop the bug making them ill, it found.
"Our main message to consumers is to cook chicken thoroughly and to wash hands and utensils thoroughly after handling it raw," she said.
It was also important not to wash chicken before cooking, as it was easy to spread the bug around that way.
Ms O'Connor said that while campylobacter infection rates had increased in the last few years that could be down to other sources and not just chicken.
Rates of human infection in Ireland are broadly similar to those throughout Europe, at around 50 per 100,000 people, Ms O'Connor said.
Campylobacter infection usually lasts between two and seven days, causing diarrhoea, abdominal pain with occasional more severe complications.
It usually clears up by itself after a few days and is less likely to cause hospitalisation than some other food poisoning bugs.
However, it is believed to cost the country millions each year in lost working days.