Researchers call for better labelling on fresh chicken

Morning Talk 17/04/2018
Photo: Getty.

Researchers have found people don't know the risks associated with fresh chicken and say retailers should do much more to inform shoppers.

Campylobacter is a bacterium commonly present in fresh chicken meat, but a recent study noted that this is not explicit on labels.

Improper preparation of infected meat can cause a severe form of gastroenteritis called campylobacteriosis, which hospitalises about 600 people each year in New Zealand.

Only 15 percent of consumers were aware that most fresh chicken meat for sale in New Zealand is contaminated with Campylobacter, according to a University of Otago, Wellington study published in the international journal BMC Public Health. 

The study’s co-author Professor Michael Baker told Mark Sainsbury that non-disclosure on chicken labels is causing a huge health problem.

The Otago University professor called out the industry for assuming it’s okay to sell contaminated food because “consumers know this and they have to cook it properly and not cross contaminate other foods.”

“Unfortunately that’s a huge assumption that is actually quite wrong and we were investigating that with this study,” Prof Baker said.

The research also found deficiencies in the safety information provided to consumers on labels, with butchery labels in particular lacking any chicken preparation information.

Keeping (chicken) at a refrigeration temperature actually maintains the bug.

Prof Baker said the availability of cheap, fresh chicken is behind the rise in food poisoning.

“Keeping (chicken) at a refrigeration temperature actually maintains the bug.

“The rise of campylobacter in New Zealand has corresponded with the rise of fresh chicken sales.”

Many of the survey participants were unaware that rinsing fresh chicken under the tap could spread the infection or that freezing chicken reduced Campylobacter contamination.

The study’s authors, including Prof Baker, expect food safety regulators and chicken producers and retailers to be taking all reasonable steps to protect consumers.

They say there is no requirement to include safety information on fresh poultry packaged in supermarkets or butchers - where labels are present the font is often tiny and barely readable.

No labels even mentioned the word Campylobacter, the authors said.

Listen the full interview with Professor Michael Baker above.

Morning Talk with Mark Sainsbury, 9am - 12pm Weekdays and streaming live on 'rova' channel 9 - available on Android and iPhone.

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