A recent study has revealed that eating chicken meat is the main risk factor for Campylobacter infection in Australia. The study was researched by BMC Infectious Diseases from February 2018 to October 2019 but was published in June this year and highly links eating chicken with food poisoning. But what are the implications of this and how do you avoid contracting the Campylobacter infection from eating chicken? In this blog, we will run through all of the information you need to know.

What is the Campylobacter infection?

Campylobacter is a type of stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, and is more commonly known as food poisoning. Humans get food poisoning from consuming food or drink that has the Campylobacter bacteria in them. It is one of the most common foodborne illnesses, with most people suffering from it at least once in their lives. Interestingly, Australia has a higher incidence of campylobacteriosis compared with other high-income countries.

If you have ever had food poisoning, you will undoubtedly know how unpleasant the symptoms are. They are diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pains and fever and can last for about a week. These typically show one to seven days after coming into contact with Campylobacter bacteria, although not everyone who does will show symptoms. There is no specific cure or treatment other than letting the infection run its course and ensuring you stay hydrated. It is highly contagious.

What did the study show?

This recent study used confirmed cases of campylobacteriosis in Australia to find out what the risk factors were. The scientists were able to estimate that a staggering 42% of cases in the study were attributed to eating chicken meat that was either cooked or undercooked. The study suggests that the risk of this can be explained through the preparation of raw meat during cooking, such as surface or utensil cross-contamination. It also stated that many patients were likely to be unaware that they consumed undercooked chicken.

It also indicated similar results even when examining different types of campylobacter. However, Campylobacter Coli infection, in particular, had the unique risk factor of eating cold-cut meat, which attributed to 31% of these infections, while eating chicken pâté attributed to 6%. Chicken kebabs were a specific risk factor for Campylobacter jejuni.

They also researched what circumstances are associated with reduced odds of campylobacteriosis and found out that these included eating outside of the home, consumption of non-poultry meats (such as cooked lamb and ground beef or veal) and, perhaps surprisingly, cooking on a barbecue.

You can read the full study by clicking here.

Why is chicken often linked to food poisoning?

As mentioned, the study found that cross-contamination during the handling of raw chicken and people not being aware that their chicken was undercooked are likely to be the main culprits in this extensive link between eating chicken and Campylobacter. However, the fact that Australian retail raw meat is not subject to microbiological limits is likely to contribute to this significantly and explain why Australia has such a high incidence of campylobacteriosis.

Loose voluntary guidelines of less than 6,000-10,000 colony-forming units of Campylobacter per poultry carcass exist, but there is no guarantee that these have been followed when purchasing meat, which can lead to the bacteria being present. When Campylobacter finds its way onto other foods or the chicken is not cooked, the bacteria can remain and thrive before infecting the person who consumes it.

How do I avoid food poisoning from eating chicken?

The researchers have said that engagement with industry partners in the poultry supply chain to reduce Campylobacter on chicken meat is essential. They also said that the education of consumers about the risks of handling raw meat is recommended for personal risk reduction of contracting food poisoning from all foods.

Some of the steps you can easily take to avoid food poisoning include:

• Regularly washing your hands – especially if you are or have been in contact with someone who is sick – when handling food and before eating
• Using separate chopping boards for raw chicken
• Cleaning all utensils and surfaces that have come into contact with raw chicken with hot soapy water
• Cooking chicken until there is no pink visible
• Check your chicken is not pink before eating it.

We also recommend being careful about what food you buy and eat, and, if possible, checking the quality standards of where it has come from. Only eat where there is proof that a food handling certificate has been obtained.