A Which? investigation of supermarket chicken has found evidence of bacteria which may cause food poisoning if not cooked and handled correctly.
Which? tested whole chickens and chicken portions from nine supermarkets. Of the 192 samples:
- one in five (18%) were contaminated with campylobacter;
- 17% were contaminated with listeria, with 4% of samples containing levels of listeria classed as high by the Food Standards Agency (FSA); and
- 1.5% also tested positive for salmonella.
Which? recommends that consumers cook chicken thoroughly, and make sure it is properly wrapped and stored at a cold enough temperature. It’s also important not to wash raw chicken, as it could splash the bacteria onto the sink, worktops or nearby dishes, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.
Which? research from February 2011 showed that 82% of the public want controls in place throughout the supply chain, so that chickens aren’t infected – rather than trying to deal with contamination at the end of the process.
Although not a directly comparable test, these results indicate an improvement on 2009, when the FSA found that 65% of fresh chickens it tested were contaminated with campylobacter at the point of sale.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director says:
“While the situation is improving, it is still unacceptable that one in five chickens we tested were found to be contaminated with campylobacter.
“We want to see the risk of contamination minimised at every stage of production, because for far too long consumers have been expected to clean up mistakes made earlier in the supply chain.”
Chicken is safe if handled and cooked correctly. Tips to protect yourself from food poisoning at home:
- Packaging Make sure chicken is properly wrapped and in leak-proof packaging so that meat and juices don’t come into contact with any other foods or work surfaces, and wash your hands after handling.
- Refrigeration Refrigerate (at or below 5ºC) raw chicken. Bacteria multiply faster at room temperature. Listeria can also multiply at refrigeration temperatures so it’s important to stick to the use-by date.
- Washing Don’t wash raw chicken, as you could splash the bacteria onto the sink, worktops or nearby dishes, increasing cross-contamination.
- Storage Store raw meat in a sealed container at the bottom of your fridge. Keep it separate from ready-to-eat foods such as ham and salad. As these don’t need cooking, any bacteria transferred to them won’t be killed.
- Preparation Use different chopping boards and knives for preparing raw meat to other foods, and wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling.
- Cooking It’s vital you cook chicken thoroughly – the inside must be piping hot with no pink bits, and juices must run clear. Cooking at temperatures above 70ºC (165ºF) will kill bacteria.
Notes to Editor
1 In March 2012, Which? bought chicken samples from Aldi, Asda, The Co-operative, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. We visited each retailer twice, at different locations. Where available, we bought five standard, five free-range and five organic samples. Not all the samples were available at every supermarket, so in total we tested 192 samples – 97 standard chicken samples, 74 free-range and 21 organic – all reared in the UK. We purchased a range of chicken portions and whole birds and bought samples with a variety of use-by dates. The samples were tested for campylobacter, salmonella and listeria.
2 Our study is a snapshot – we tested each retailer on two days in different locations. Because of this, we are unable to definitively say that chicken from one supermarket is better than that from another. However, we found bacterial contamination in samples from every retailer we tested.
3 Which? online research of 1,406 UK adults in Feb 2011 showed that 82% of the public want controls in place throughout the food chain, so that chickens aren’t infected – rather than trying to deal with contamination at the end of the process. But when asked about specific treatments, 59% said they were unlikely to buy chicken treated with safe levels of irradiation; 60% were unlikely to buy chicken that had been sprayed or washed with a mild acid such as lactic acid; and 67% were unlikely to buy chicken treated with chlorine. People were more accepting of steam treatment, with 59% saying they were likely to buy a steam treated chicken.