Researchers have found people don't know the risks associated with fresh chicken and say retailers should do much more to inform shoppers.

A University of Otago, Wellington study, published last week in the international journal BMC Public Health, found only 15 per cent of consumers were aware that most of fresh chicken meat for sale in New Zealand is contaminated with Campylobacter.

The researchers also found deficiencies in the safety information provided to consumers on labels, with butchery labels in particular lacking any chicken preparation information.

"New Zealand has one of the highest rates of campylobacteriosis in the world and at least half of cases can be attributed to contaminated chicken," says Philip Allan, one of the study's authors and a medical student attached to the Department of Public Health.


Most survey participants were aware of the need to thoroughly cook chicken and to use separate utensils during preparation, but many were unaware that rinsing fresh chicken under the tap could spread the infection or that freezing chicken reduced Campylobacter contamination.

The study authors expect food safety regulators and chicken producers and retailers to be taking all reasonable steps to protect consumers.

They say there is no requirement to include safety information on fresh poultry packaged in supermarkets or butchers. Where labels are present the font is often tiny and barely readable. No labels even mentioned the word Campylobacter.

This bacteria causes campylobacteriosis, a severe form of gastroenteritis that hospitalises about 600 people each year in New Zealand and paralyses an estimated 30 others with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

The study was based on interviews with 401 shoppers over the age of 16 recruited outside 12 supermarkets and six butcheries in the Wellington region.