Around 23kg of poultry per person – that’s how much Brits eat on average each year. So it’s safe to say we love chicken – whether it’s roasted, grilled, fried or barbecued. But how safe actually is it to eat?
So, how safe is your supermarket chicken? We took the question to our labs and found that 18% of the chickens we tested were contaminated with campylobacter, 17% were contaminated with listeria and 1.5% tested positive for salmonella.
Although all these types of bacteria can cause food poisoning, cooking at temperatures above 70ºC (165ºF) kills them. However, most food poisoning cases are caused by cross-contamination – that is, the bacteria from raw chicken being transferred to other foods that you don’t cook, meaning the bacteria aren’t killed.
Keep bacteria at bay in the kitchen
There are simple ways you can minimise cross-contamination at home. Don’t wash raw chicken – the water can spray bacteria onto the surrounding area of your kitchen. In the fridge, keep raw chicken in sealed packaging on the bottom shelf. And when preparing chicken, use different knives and chopping boards and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
But should the onus be on us, the consumers? Or should the chicken industry do more to make the chicken we buy as uncontaminated as possible?
In the US, chicken processing plants sometimes spray their birds with chlorinated water right at the end of the production line. This can reduce bacterial contamination, but it’s currently not permitted in the EU.
Should producers freeze, acid wash or irradiate our birds?
When we spoke to the British Poultry Council, it told us that there were many other carcass treatments that could be introduced to reduce bacterial contamination. These include steam treatment, a lactic acid wash, skin-only freezing, whole carcass freezing and irradiation.
However, the industry doesn’t want to introduce treatments that could put consumers off buying their chicken. In February 2011 we surveyed 1,406 Brits online – the majority (82%) told us they wanted controls put in place throughout the food chain so that chickens aren’t infected – rather than trying to deal with the contamination right at the end.
Respondents were most averse to chlorine washes, other washes with mild acid (such as lactic acid) and irradiation treatment.
Would you buy chicken that had been treated with one of these washes? Or are you happier taking responsibility to practice good food safety at home?