By Laura Roberts and Peter Hutchison
About half of chickens sold in leading supermarkets have potentially harmful bacteria on the outside of their packets, a Daily Telegraph investigation has found.
Simply picking up a chicken in Asda, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco could put you at risk of food poisoning or infection, according to our research. The bacteria could cause vomiting, diarrhoea, urinary tract infections and even wound infections.
The Food Standards Agency has asked to see our results after learning that E. coli, which is potentially fatal, was among the bacteria present.
Dr Ron Cutler, the microbiologist who led the investigation, said: “People should be aware that if you have raw meat, then just handling it in its packaging may not be as safe as thought previously.
“It’s not just as easy as picking up a packet of cornflakes. The raw meat packaging is a potential source of infection.”
Researchers at Queen Mary University London looked at four raw whole chickens from each supermarket. Although only 20 chickens were tested, if the findings are consistent for all supermarkets, about half of chickens sold could have harmful bacteria on their packaging.
E. coli was found on one of the chickens from Sainsbury’s. Some strains can cause vomiting and diarrhoea and the most dangerous strain, 0157, can be fatal.
Staphylococcus aureus, an MRSA-related bacteria that can cause wound infections, was found on a sample from Asda. Acinetobacter baumannii, which also causes serious wound infections, was found on one chicken from Asda and two from Marks & Spencer.
Proteus mirabilis, which can cause urinary tract infections, was found on chickens from Asda, Tesco and Morrisons, and high levels of Micrococcus luteus, which also causes urinary tract infections, were found on a sample from Tesco.
Once on shoppers’ hands, these bacteria can be passed on through trolley handles and shopping bags and transferred to other foods, putting young children and the elderly particularly at risk.
An FSA spokesman said: “The Telegraph’s survey reinforces our advice to avoid cross-contamination when handling and storing raw chicken, even if it is still in its packaging.
“We are also encouraging retailers to make leakproof packs standard, to ensure any bugs that may be on the chicken are contained.”
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: “We are developing leakproof packaging to help reduce the presence of the bacteria on external packaging and we have food safety advice on all our poultry and raw meat products to ensure they are cooked and handled safely.”
An Asda spokesman said: “We have the highest standards of cleanliness in all stores and will continue to ensure all our packaging and food handling processes are first class.”
A Morrisons spokesman said: “We ensure all our suppliers observe the highest food safety standards when processing and packing food.”
A Marks & Spencer spokesman said: “We take food safety very seriously and have an industry leading position on helping our customers to reduce the risk of food poisoning in the home.”
A spokesman for Tesco told its customers that they “should ensure they take the normal precautions that apply to raw chicken, including cooking it thoroughly and washing their hands after touching it”.
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