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Campylobacter problems not easily resolved

Campylobacter problems not easily resolved

Concerns raised recently about levels of campylobacter are not new for the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA). The problem has been taxing our science, standard setting and communication programmes for some time.

Campylobacter is naturally present throughout the environment, in water, on animals (including birds and pets) as well as being found on meat and food products. While contamination rates are high for chicken, levels found in New Zealand are similar to those in other countries.

The important thing to remember is that no food is 100% safe. Harmful organisms can be, and are, present on most foods and care needs to be taken to avoid contamination or providing conditions that allow them to multiply.

Our research programme tells us that, as far as chicken is concerned, there is no single solution to the problem. There are points right throughout the farm to plate chain that poultry could either become contaminated or spread contamination to other food, equipment or people.

Finding cost effective ways to manage these risks without applying technologies that are not acceptable to New Zealand consumers, such as irradiation, is not straightforward.

It is certainly not as simple as saying all chicken should be frozen. Freezing chicken creates other problems; for example incompletely thawed product can remain uncooked in the middle and thawing creates problems with dripping fluid.

Country comparisons of illness rates need to be treated with caution due to differing reporting methods. This is not to deny that New Zealand's rate of campylobacteriosis is unacceptably high.

NZFSA expects that its own and other New Zealand research programmes will give answers to enable sound measures to be introduced to reduce the rates of illness. But precipitous ad hoc solutions do no good to anyone – particularly not to the consumers who ultimately pay the price of these.

Meantime, people are reminded to take care with all food and to apply the clean/cook/ cover/chill and hand washing rules at all time when handling food.

ENDS

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