How to avoid campylobacteriosis this festive season

by Jennifer Bowden / 05 December, 2012
Avoiding campylobacteriosis

Avoiding illness could be as easy as not washing your Christmas poultry.

Do you wash chicken or other poultry before cooking it? If so, stop washing that chook right now, because the washing increases the risk of foodborne illness in your household.

Chicken is a versatile, great-tasting and low-fat protein source and our most popular meat. Yet poultry meat – along with unpasteurised milk and untreated drinking water – is a leading source of illness associated with campylobacter. Campylobacteriosis, caused by campylobacter bacteria, is our most common bacterial foodborne illness.

Until recently, New Zealand was the campylobacteriosis capital of the world. In 2006, 15,873 notified cases of campylobacteriosis occurred; at 384 cases per 100,000 population, this was the highest rate in the world. But concerted efforts by the Government and the poultry industry have markedly reduced this rate, with 6692 cases reported in 2011. Nevertheless, our current rate of 168 cases per 100,000 population is still high, and somewhat disconcerting alongside Australia’s 108 and America’s 13 cases per 100,000 population. Clearly, improvements are still needed in food-safety practices by the industry and retailers and in the home, particularly when handling poultry.

Cross-contamination – the transfer of harmful bacteria from one food to another – is a known source of campylobacteriosis. This happens either directly, when foods touch each other (for example, raw chicken drips onto an uncovered salad in the fridge), or indirectly, through hands or cooking implements, such as chopping boards and utensils. Cross-contamination is also more likely if poultry is washed, as harmful bacteria are sprayed around the sink and taps and onto hands, utensils, chopping boards and nearby foods.

Poultry washing is a widespread practice. A recent survey, for example, found over 60% of Australian home cooks washed whole poultry before cooking, 50% washed chicken pieces with skin on and 40% washed skinless pieces. Raw poultry meat often contains more liquid than other meats, so it can be messy to handle. But rather than washing poultry, use a paper towel to mop up excess moisture. Any remaining bacteria are killed by cooking the meat to 75°C, using a meat thermo meter in the thickest part, or until the juices run clear.

Tips for a healthier festive season

Use these tips to prevent cross-contamination and make your Christmas lunch one to remember for the right reasons:

    • Always wash and dry hands and clean surfaces with soap and hot water before and after contact with raw poultry.
    • Wipe poultry spills and clean surfaces with hot soapy water and a cloth or paper towels. Wash kitchen cloths often, using the washing machine’s hot cycle.
    • Wash cutting boards, dishes and counter-tops with hot soapy water and dry thoroughly after preparing each food item and before preparing the next item.
    • Ideally, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Replace cutting boards that are very worn or have hard-to-clean grooves.
    • When shopping, ensure raw poultry, meat and seafood are in plastic bags separated from other foods in the trolley and in shopping bags.
    • Store raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers or sealed plastic bags in the fridge to prevent juices dripping onto other foods, especially desserts or salads that won’t be cooked. Raw juices often contain harmful bacteria.
    • Defrost poultry in the fridge or microwave in a container to prevent juice dripping onto other food. Defrost poultry completely before cooking.
    • Use clean plates and utensils and wash and dry thoroughly between using for raw and cooked poultry.
    • Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw poultry.
    • Marinade used for raw meat, poultry or seafood shouldn’t be used on cooked foods, unless it’s boiled just before using.

Campylobacteriosis: Symptoms typically start within two to five days of exposure and include general muscle pain, stomach cramps, nausea, headache or fever, followed by diarrhoea. Symptoms last about a week, but during the illness, and for up to a fortnight afterwards, bacteria are shed from the gut and can survive on hands and moist surfaces for up to an hour.

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