Experts are slamming study findings that say most of the fresh chicken meat sold in New Zealand is contaminated with Campylobacter, as scaremongering.
A new University of Otago, Wellington study, published last week in the international journal BMC Public Health found an overwhelming majority of consumers were not aware of the widespread contamination.
Researchers have found people don't know the risks associated with fresh chicken and say retailers should do much more to inform shoppers.
The researchers also found deficiencies in the safety information provided to consumers on labels, with butchery labels in particular lacking any chicken preparation information.
The Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand is challenging the findings, which it says does not reflect reported campylobacter statistics nor consumer behaviour.
PIANZ executive director Michael Brooks said the findings did not add up with New Zealand's soaring chicken consumption, and flat rates of reported campylobacter cases.
"Reported cases of campylobacter have sat between 6000 to 7000 for the past five years, so it's misleading to estimate there are 30,000 cases occurring," Brooks said.
"It is important to note that the source of these cases was not always chicken.
"Consumers contract campylobacteriosis from other sources too."
Brooks said the poultry industry had made significant changes when it came to labelling for food safety.
The association lost control of that access to information once third parties like butchers or supermarkets started packaging their own raw chicken product.
"As an industry it is important for everyone to educate their customers on food safety practices."
Brooks said he welcomed a collaborative approach with institutions such as Otago University, as consumer education was key to reducing cases of campylobacter.
"What is not useful is to mislead consumers with over inflated figures and inaccurate information when the industry as a whole is making a concerted effort to improve labelling across all raw chicken products."
Top tips for handling and preparing chicken:
1. Handling: Do not wash chicken.
2. Wash hands and equipment thoroughly with hot soapy water after handling raw chicken
3. Store raw chicken on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Thaw completely and cook within 24 hours of thawing
4. Chicken must be fully cooked through until juices run clear.
Source: The Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand