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“Wash Your Hands, Not Your Chicken”
In the run up to Christmas when roasted turkey, chicken and goose are at the forefront of people’s minds, it was encouraging to see industry and media reports on Campylobacter in chicken and the risks of cross-contamination from washing birds before cooking, with research from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) showing that washing fowl could present a real risk of food poisoning.
But the fact of the matter is that, despite poultry meat being the most purchased meat type in the UK*, the message about the dangers of cross-contamination because of washing poultry still needs reinforcing. In a national survey carried out as part of Enigma Project research, nearly 50% of people said they always or usually put their festive bird under the tap before cooking it.
But Food Safety advice from microbiologists and the FSA warns against this as it risks spraying pathogens, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, over clean plates and cutlery, causing cross-contamination which can lead to food poisoning.
Turkey under the tap
Almost 900 people took part in the national online survey, which is part of wider work on food and disease economics being carried out by researchers as part of the Enigma Project. It found that 48.6% of respondents always or usually washed their turkey under the tap. Only 41% said they never washed their festive poultry.
Professor Dan Rigby, a lecturer in environmental economics from the University of Manchester, and lead for this particular survey said: “Washing poultry is often said to be something that older people were brought up doing, but the survey showed that it is 18 to 34-year-olds who are most likely to wash their turkey this Christmas. We also found that men were more likely to wash the turkey than women.
“People are underestimating the level of contamination. Despite years of information campaigns against washing poultry the habit seems hard to kick for many and the findings of our survey suggest this is not just a generational habit that will fade away.
“Christmas is one of the most pressured days for home cooks to deliver a great meal but people are still not getting the food hygiene message around turkeys – the centrepiece of the meal. The message is simple, wash your hands, not the turkey.”
One of the principal investigators for this research project, University of Liverpool‘s Professor Sarah O’Brien, added: “In our ‘Enigma’ programme we are trying to find out why Campylobacter rates remain stubbornly high. This research shows that, despite good, published advice on how to stay safe from food poisoning, the message is still not getting through.”