FSAI Advises Leak-Proof Poultry Packaging

IRELAND - Following the publication of a survey of Campylobacter contamination of poultry carcasses in EU countries, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is offering advice to processors, retailers and consumers on controlling Campylobacter contamination.
calendar icon 23 March 2010
clock icon 5 minute read

The FSAI has noted the recently published European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) study which has shown that there is a high level of Campylobacter contamination in poultry carcasses in slaughter plants throughout Europe, with the majority of carcasses in Irish plants having some level of contamination. It states that EFSA's study is pertinent to the findings of a recent FSAI survey, which examined the prevalence of Campylobacter on the surface of chicken packaging sold in Irish retail outlets. The FSAI report, which is currently being finalised, highlights that 13.2 per cent of the external surface of chicken packaging and 10.9 per cent of the surface of retail display cabinets were contaminated with Campylobacter species. In light of EFSA's and the FSAI's findings, it reiterated its call to the Irish retail sector to source chicken products from producers using leak-proof packaging solutions or to provide customers with specific bags to prevent leakage of potentially contaminated poultry juices.

According to Professor Alan Reilly, CEO of FSAI, the findings of both studies provide significant data for the FSAI's Scientific Committee which is currently working with the food industry and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to look at practical measures to form the basis of a Campylobacter control programme in Irish chicken. Campylobacter infections can cause acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea and/or vomiting, and can be severe and life threatening in vulnerable people, such as the very young, the old and those with any underlying health condition. Similar to all bacteria found naturally on meat and poultry, the danger posed by Campylobacter can be removed by thoroughly cooking products and by preventing cross-contamination between raw meat and ready-to-eat foods.

The preliminary findings from the FSAI survey, which involved examining 785 packaging surfaces and 785 display cabinet surfaces, shows that cross-contamination can occur from a whole chicken, if the packaging allows the meat juices to leak out. This can cross contaminate other food products and is especially serious if it leaks on to food which will not be cooked prior to consumption. The survey found less contamination (2.1 per cent) on the external surface of packaging designed to prevent leakage, by comparison to the conventional packaging (18.9 per cent), where plastic is wrapped around the tray and sealed underneath and is more prone to leakage of juices.

Professor Alan Reilly stated that practical measures can be undertaken to decrease the health risk posed by these bacteria found mainly on whole chickens.

He said: "Leak-proof packaging can provide a significant barrier to the spread of Campylobacter and we have asked retailers to source chicken products from producers using leak-proof packaging solutions. Where chicken is sold in conventional packaging, retailers have been asked to review their food safety management systems to control the risk of Campylobacter spreading to ready-to-eat foods. For conventional packaging, we would recommend that retailers consider providing specific bags to place the chicken in and therefore, better protect against leakage."

Internationally, it is estimated that handling and preparation of chicken and consumption of undercooked chicken meat accounts for approximately 30 per cent of human cases of bacterial Campylobacter. In Ireland, Campylobacter is now the number one cause of foodborne illness, with some 1,758 cases of campylobacteriosis reported in 2008 and provisional data for 2009 shows 1,823 cases reported.

Professor Riley commented: "Campylobacter is a naturally occurring bacterium found in the intestinal tract of livestock and poultry used for food production and can therefore, be transmitted through a variety of foods of animal origin.

"We remind caterers and retailers of their legal obligation to use good hygienic practices at all times to prevent cross-contamination between raw poultry and ready-to-eat food, to always store raw poultry correctly, and never to sell undercooked poultry.

"Caterers and retailers should be handling and storing raw poultry correctly to avoid cross-contamination with ready-to-eat food. Hands and utensils should always be washed after handling raw poultry, and poultry should be cooked thoroughly until there is no pink meat and the juices run clear."

The FSAI also recommends that consumers should play their role too to protect themselves, by taking simple measures to avoid Campylobacter contamination.

Professor Reilly concluded: "Consumers can also protect themselves and prevent contamination of their foodstuffs by being mindful of some key practices, such as: when shopping, designating a bag for packing raw poultry and raw meats only; always washing hands after handling raw poultry; storing raw poultry in the fridge separated from ready-to-eat foods; and always cooking poultry meat thoroughly, until there is no pink meat and the juices run clear."

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on the EFSA survey by clicking here.
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