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Undercooked chicken responsible for over 60 per cent of campylobacter food poisoning

Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows that since the year 2000 there have been 1,595 people affected in outbreaks of food poisoning caused by the bacteria campylobacter.


These were all associated with the consumption of poultry products and of these 1,282 (80 per cent) had reported eating chicken liver dishes.

This information is published as part of activities to raise awareness of Food Safety Week, a national campaign managed by the Food Standards Agency, which runs from the 16-22 June which this year is focusing on campylobacter.

Campylobacter is the bacteria most commonly associated with gastrointestinal illness and PHE records show that there are on average 60,000 confirmed cases each year. Most of these infections are sporadic and not associated with outbreaks.

Infection is self-limiting and people will usually recover without treatment in a few days. It is important to remain hydrated and some people may find rehydration salts useful.

Any meat can be contaminated with campylobacter and poultry is commonly affected as the bacteria get onto the surface of the meat during the slaughtering process. It can also be found inside chicken livers. Similarly not cooking chicken livers thoroughly means that bacteria can survive and this increases the risk of infection.

Chicken liver parfait/pate dishes have increased in popularity over the last few years and many chefs recommend leaving the centre of the livers pink which does not kill the bacteria.  PHE records show that the number of people linked to outbreaks where chicken livers were implicated has risen from eight people in 2000 to 210 in 2013.

Dr Bob Adak, head of the gastrointestinal diseases department at PHE, said: “We welcome this campaign by the Food Standards Agency as it is raising awareness of a very common illness. There are more gastrointestinal infections caused by campylobacter than any other bacteria.  This is not something particular to England but is a pattern seen around the world.

“Out of a number of possible risk factors the greatest by far is eating or handling poultry meat which is why we are urging people during Food Safety Week to pay attention to how they store and handle chicken and other poultry meat at home. Hand and kitchen hygiene are key here and if you have handled raw meat or used a chopping board you need to wash these thoroughly using soap and hot water.”

How can you avoid getting infected with campylobacter?

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water:

– before preparing and eating food

– after handling raw food

– after going to the toilet or changing a baby’s nappy

– after contact with pets and other animals

– after working in the garden

  • Keep cooked food away from raw food
  • Store raw foods below cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the fridge to prevent contamination.
  • Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, so that it is piping hot, as this will destroy any campylobacter
  • Keep all kitchen surfaces and equipment including knives, chopping boards and dish cloths clean
  • Do not drink untreated water from lakes, rivers or streams

You should pay special attention to hygiene during farm visits, washing hands after any contact with animals, and eating only in designated areas.

If someone has campylobacter put all dirty clothes, bedding and towels on the hottest cycle of the washing machine possible. Clean toilet seats, toilet bowls, flush handles, taps and wash hand basins after use with detergent and hot water, followed by a household disinfectant.