Science & Environment

Infected chickens cause 'growing concern'

fresh chicken
Image caption Washing hands after touching raw meat and thorough cooking can reduce infection risk

Concerns are growing about antibiotic resistance of food-poisoning bacteria carried by poultry, according to a new report.

Campylobacter, which is present in many shop chickens, is becoming resistant to front-line drugs, a study in 28 EU countries has found.

It reduces the options for treating human infections, say scientists.

A separate report by the UK's Food Standards Agency found campylobacter in UK chickens remained at high levels.

The report from the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), monitored antimicrobial drug resistance in humans, animals and food during 2013.

Mike Catchpole, chief scientist at the ECDC, said antibiotic drug resistance in bacteria present in shop chickens was "of concern considering that a large proportion of human campylobacter infections come from handling, preparation and consumption of broiler meat".

"Such high resistance levels reduce the effective treatment options for severe human campylobacter infections," he added.

Monitoring of samples taken in slaughterhouses and at retail outlets in 28 countries revealed:

  • Growing resistance of the salmonella bug to commonly used treatments, with multi-drug resistance in 32% of human samples, 56% of chickens, 73% of turkeys and 38% of pigs
  • Resistance to the front-line treatment for campylobacter in more than half of human and chicken samples, and about a third of cattle.

Campylobacter is a food bug mainly found on raw poultry and is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK.

An estimated 280,000 people a year are made ill by it.

Most shop chickens sold in the UK are contaminated with the bacteria.

The latest results from the Food Standards Agency for samples taken between February and November 2014 found 73% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter.

Prof Chris Elliott, chairman of food safety, and director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast, said the overall results had not changed markedly.

"This is not surprising as tackling this serious problem will require a series of changes to be implemented industry-wide," he said.

"Our responsibility to ensure, as consumers, we store, prepare and cook chicken properly will be another hugely important part of the way we collectively deal with a very difficult issue."

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