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How safe is the chicken you’re eating?

April 15, 2015

Dangerous bacteria, responsible for countless food poisoning cases around Australia, has been found on more than half of the raw chicken tested by Channel Nine’s A Current Affair (ACA). As an affordable and versatile source of protein, chicken might be a great option for a meal, however it might not always be the safest.

The special investigation into chicken contamination which aired yesterday, saw eighteen samples of various raw chicken cuts purchased from Coles, Woolworths, IGA, Aldi and an independent butcher tested for bacteria contamination. The samples were sent to independent science lab, Biotech Laboratories in Brisbane, and some alarming results were revealed.

Of the raw chicken tested, 60 per cent contained campylobacter bacteria, the largest cause of food poisoning in Australia. Campylobacter, a relatively unknown type of bacteria, has recently made news for contaminating raw chicken in the UK. Also found on 45 per cent of the chicken tested was E. coli, a bacteria normally found in faeces.

General Manager of Biotech Laboratories, Glen Pinna, told ACA that consumers should assume that all raw chicken is contaminated and treat it as such. The bacteria found on the chicken samples have no smell or taste and are invisible to the naked eye. This makes these stealthy bacteria more dangerous and can lead to consumers misinterpreting their contaminated chicken as safe.

While cold chicken must be kept under 5 degrees celsius, all chicken served hot must be kept above 60 degrees celsius. Of the supermarket BBQ chickens tested by ACA, all were safely above the 60 degrees celsius mark. However, chicken bought from a takeaway shop recorded a core temperature of as low as 38 degrees celsius, which puts it in the ‘danger-zone’.

Preventing you and your family from harmful bacteria.

Julie Goodwin, former MasterChef winner, says ‘food safety is paramount in the kitchen and chicken is only dangerous if you don’t know how to handle it”. She explains that cross-contamination is a main cause of people becoming sick from chicken.

Even if you do cook the chicken properly and it is safe, bacteria might still be living on the chopping board, tongs or cloths that the raw chicken came in contact with. If you use cooking utensils or your hands without washing and disinfecting them properly, there is a high chance that the harmful bacteria will spread.

Cooking the chicken greatly reduces the numbers of harmful bacteria however it is not a guarantee of safety. If there are a very high number of bacteria, usually because the chicken was not stored in the correct environment or it was too old, cooking it will reduce the amount of bacteria but not necessarily enough to make it safe to eat. This is why storing and preparing the chicken under the correct conditions is so important.

Unfortunately there is no way to produce sterile chicken completely free from campylobacter bacteria according to Andreas Dubs, Executive Director at Australian Poultry Industries Association. However, reducing the number of harmful bacteria on the raw chicken is possible by practising good biosecurity on the farms and washing the chicken in chlorinated water, he explained to ACA.

Are you suffering from food poisoning?

Food poisoning can affect people in many different ways. Typically you might suffer from vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, chills and/or fevers that can potentially lead to hospitalisation. Often detecting the cause of the poisoning is very difficult, as the symptoms might not begin to appear until at least two days after exposure.

The best way to protect against food poisoning is by practising a high level of food safety and if you think that you could be suffering from food poisoning, contact your doctor.