Mary Brears, of Lake Tarawera, asks :-

Is fresh or frozen chicken safest? I have heard that in some countries chicken cannot be sold fresh.

Steve Flint, a food microbiologist at Massey University, responded.

If you or a friend have suffered from campylobacter food poisoning, you will remember the experience for some time. A friend of mine, a fit healthy male in his 30’s was very sick for 3 weeks as a result of campylobacter food poisoning. He does not know what he ate that caused this illness but chicken is often associated with this type of food poisoning.

Campylobacteriosis is the most frequent cause of serious food poisoning in New Zealand. Recent information from work done by New Zealand researchers has been used by the food industry and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority to reverse the trend of rising numbers of food poisoning cases due to campylobacter. However, the most recent figures from the Ministry of Health show more than 700 notified cases of campylobacteriosis per year. Although this is approximately half the number of cases reported in 2006 we clearly we still have a long way t o go to control this cause of food poisoning.

The focus is primarily on chickens as the source. Most cases occur during the summer months suggesting that the warm temperatures encourage the growth of this micro-organism in food. If not thoroughly cooked, campylobacter bacteria surviving in the chicken may cause food poisoning. Chicken is difficult to cook on a flat BBQ plate, unlike a flat piece of steak.

So, what else can we do to help prevent campylobacter food poisoning? Frozen chicken may be safer than fresh chicken. This is because freezing has been shown to reduce the numbers of campylobacter bacteria in chicken. Frozen chicken is also safer to handle than fresh chicken as the liquid dripping from fresh chicken is often contaminated with campylobacter. While frozen storage may help reduce the risk of food poisoning, it is by no means a reliable control measure. Some of the bacteria do survive and therefore may still be capable of causing food poisoning in poorly cooked chicken.

There is really no substitute for care in handling raw food and thorough cooking.