A few simple rules prevent what we all hate - severe food poisoning ruining your summer.
Campylobacter is the most common notifiable food-borne disease in New Zealand, with chicken the most common source of food-borne campylobacter.
Our campylobacter rates have halved since 2006 – but New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) wants to further reduce incidents of food poisoning.
In 2006, total notified cases of campylobacter poisoning stood at 15,873; in 2017, 6482 were reported. This has occurred since a formal campylobacter risk management strategy was put in place in 2006, including the public-focused Clean, Cook, Chill – Don't Get Ill campaign.
Campylobacter, and many other bacteria that cause food-borne illness, is present in the guts of humans and animals and can be transferred to foods during the growing, processing and handling. People may also be infected through contact with pets, birds, infected people or objects contaminated by animals.
Campylobacter can occur in a variety of foods including chicken meat, minced meat products, offal, raw milk and raw milk products.
The number of cases of campylobacteriosis increases over the warmer summer months when we head outside to the barbecue or to the beach.
“The number of cases goes up around this time of year when it’s warmer and there’s more barbecuing going on,” explains Marion Castle, the Manager for Production and Processing, Animal Products at NZFS.
“In summer, as at other times, you need to take special care to safely prepare and cook chicken and other meats.”
While many know about Clean, Cook, Chill, a Colmar Brunton poll conducted in 2017 revealed only a third of us adhere to the safety rules. Most have good intentions when it comes to food preparation, cooking and handling – but home cooks are often more casual about sticking to the "three Cs" than they should be.
This is due to the (mistaken) perception that campylobacter poisoning comes primarily from food purchased at takeaways or restaurants. It's estimated that half of all poisoning cases are caused by unsafe food handling practices in the home — so Clean, Cook Chill is just as important at home as in commercial kitchens and, by sticking to a few simple rules at home, you ensure you and your family can safely enjoy summer chicken.
Make sure you wash your hands in between handling raw and cooked foods; utensils and chopping boards need to be washed with hot, soapy water with each ingredient too. Cook meat until the juices run clear and re-heat any food until it’s hot.
Remember to keep food covered in the refrigerator as well as separating cooked and raw food to avoid cross-contamination. Ideally raw meat and poultry are stored on the bottom shelf – the coldest part of the refrigerator and away from cooked food.
These rules need to be followed every time meat is prepared and are especially important when it comes to cooking outdoors –where meat can sit in the sun before being thrown on the flames.
“You always need to take extra care when barbecuing,” says Castle. “Pre-cook chicken, sausages and minced meat, then barbecue until meat is steaming hot (over 75 degrees Celsius) all the way through.
“Use separate utensils, plates and other equipment to handle raw and cooked foods. Don’t place or prepare raw meat on the grill next to cooked or partially cooked meat or other ready-to-eat foods. Turn food regularly so that it cooks evenly and keep all food covered and cool until ready to cook or eat.”
Campylobacter poisoning causes headaches and fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps or pain muscle pain. Anyone with those symptoms must see a doctor.
Following the "three Cs" (Clean, Cook, Chill) ensures you and those you cook for are always kept safe.