Almost all Irish chicken is contaminated

Nearly all chicken produced in Ireland is contaminated with dangerous bacteria, according to a new EU study. Retailers are being urged to package chicken in special leak-proof bags to reduce cross-contamination.

It also emerged that the outside of chicken packaging and supermarket shelves are being contaminated with the bacteria, campylobacter, due to leakage. The level of incidence in Ireland was 98%, which is almost one-third higher than the European average, according to the European Food Safety Agency. The agency said Irish chicken had the second-highest incidence of campylobacter among 26 EU countries in 2008.

The agency said that across the EU, an average 76pc of chicken they tested at slaughterhouses in 2008 was infected with campylobacter. All chickens it tested in Luxembourg showing positive for campylobacter. But only 4% of Finnish chickens had the bacteria. It is now the number-one cause of food poisoning in Ireland, with 1,758 cases in 2008 and provisional data showing 1,823 reported cases in 2009, reports the Irish Independent.

Packaging contamination

A recent Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) survey also examined the prevalence of campylobacter on the surface of chicken packaging. The report highlights that 13.2% of the external surface of chicken packaging and 10.9% of the surface of retail display cabinets were contaminated with campylobacter. They found less contamination (2.1%) on packaging designed to prevent leakage, by comparison with conventional packaging (18.9%).

The CEO of the FSAI, Prof Alan O'Reilly, said the findings of both studies would feed into a campylobacter control programme in Irish chicken, currently being worked on by the agency and the government.

The FSAI asked the Irish retail sector to source chicken products from producers using leak-proof packaging, or to provide customers with specific bags to prevent leakage.

Source: Irish Independent

Natalie Berkhout

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