Warnings over poultry health standards


An academic is calling for the allowable rates of the bacteria on chicken to be lowered.

Campylobacter from poultry is an epidemic in New Zealand and makes people seriously ill, but cutting acceptable levels could halve the number of people who get sick.

A campaign run in the UK makes the dangers of campylobacter perfectly clear and University of Otago Professor Michael Baker says it's time we started talking about it too.

"It's causing at least 30,000 cases a year of severe gastroenteritis, and in many cases people are sick for a week [and] they have to take time off work," he says. "Around 600 people go to hospital every year because of this infection."

Campylobacter is the most common foodborne illness found in poultry, mainly chicken.

New Zealand's rates are 10 times higher than the United States and twice that of Australia.

Thirty Kiwis a year are left paralysed from it, but Professor Baker says it doesn't have to be this way. 

"The things we want is to greatly lower the allowable level of campylobacter on fresh chicken."

That current level is around 6000 campylobacter bugs per chicken.

With more than 100 million chickens sold this year, lowering the threshold is something the industry also supports.

The Poultry Association backs any measure to reduce our rates of campylobacter. It says lowering the accepted level would be hard work for plants to meet, but if they were enforced poultry farmers would have to accept.

The Government says it won't change anything right this minute and will review submissions on the issue.

"A lot of the current detections seem to be around preparation in the home so consumers can do a lot to protect themselves against campylobacter," says MPI Food and Beverage Manager Sally Johnston.

The best advice is to not wash chicken or turkey and instead cook it to kill the bacteria, but if possible buy poultry frozen, not fresh.

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