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Bug alert on washing chickens

People who wash whole chickens before cooking them are increasing the risk of food poisoning for themselves and their households, a consumer watchdog warned today.

An estimated three-quarters of consumers who buy whole chickens wash them, potentially spreading bacteria on to work surfaces for up to a three-foot radius, research by Which? has revealed.

The most recent figures from Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggest that 65pc of raw shop-bought chicken is contaminated with campylobacter, the most common identified cause of food poisoning with symptoms including diarrhoea and stomach cramps.

Although cooking chicken properly will kill the bug, it is responsible for thousands of cases of food poisoning .

The FSA is investigating ways of reducing the level of infection across the production chain.

It is exploring the option of disinfecting chickens with an antimicrobial wash before they are sold in supermarkets or butchers, but this has not yet been approved by EU authorities.

An FSA spokeswoman said: "Washing raw poultry is a common kitchen mistake, and it simply isn't necessary.

"Tap water won't get rid of the germs that cause food poisoning but they will be killed by thorough cooking. By washing your raw bird, you're actually more likely to spread the germs around the kitchen than get rid of them."

Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith said: "It shouldn't be up to consumers to clean up problems made earlier in the food chain, but if you're planning on cooking a whole chicken, be aware that if it's infected, washing it actually increases the risk of food poisoning.

"Stay safe by cutting out the cleaning and cooking it through thoroughly."