Q&A: lowdown on bug in chickens

73% of shop-bought chickens contain campylobacter

New chicken bug details published

A Food Standards Agency (FSA) report has found that 73% of shop-bought chickens contain campylobacter. Here is a Q&A about the bug:

:: What is it?

Campylobacter is a bacteria that is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. It is thought to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning a year, according to the FSA.

:: Where is it found?

It is usually found in raw or undercooked meat, especially poultry, and less often in unpasteurised milk or untreated water. About four in five cases come from contaminated poultry.

:: How can infection be prevented?

The FSA recommends:

- covering and chilling raw chicken

- do not wash raw chicken, as this will not kill any bacteria and may spread them around

- wash hands and used utensils with warm, soapy water

- cook chicken thoroughly, until it is steaming hot all the way through, there is no pink meat left and the juices run clear when the meat is cut into

- keep to use-by dates.

:: What are the symptoms of campylobacter infection?

As with most food poisoning, the signs are likely to be vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and pain, loss of appetite, high temperature, aching muscles and chills.

:: How long do the symptoms last?

The symptoms usually last for less than a week, and the incubation period between eating contaminated food and feeling ill is two to five days.

:: Does food poisoning require medical attention?

Not usually. Food poisoning can normally be treated at home, by drinking plenty of water and resting. Symptoms will be made worse by caffeine, alcohol, fizzy drinks, spicy and fatty foods. If symptoms are severe or do not improve after a few days, the NHS recommends visiting a GP.

The advice is to stay off work or school until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea, not to prepare food for other people and to avoid contact with vulnerable people, such as the elderly or very young.

:: How can catching an infection be avoided?

To avoid catching the infection from an affected person, regularly wash hands with soap and warm water, and keep surfaces clean.

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