Food poisonings spur liver preparation alert

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 06/10/2012

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Health officials are warning liver lovers to cook their offal properly, after more than two dozen cases of food poisoning in Wellington.

They are also working with restaurants and cafes, where use of organs and other cheap cuts of meat have had a resurgence, to ensure would-be chefs are cooking their grandmother's lamb's fry recipes to today's food safety standards.

Campylobacter, a bacterium that causes stomach bugs, was found in undercooked poultry and lamb's liver, Margot McLean of Regional Public Health said. Symptoms included diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, headache and vomiting.

Like chicken meat, lamb liver needs to be cooked long enough to kill any bacteria.

Most campylobacter victims are fine after a week, but some develop arthritis and on rare occasions people can develop the rare disease Guillain-Barre syndrome, which involves the immune system attacking the body's nerves, resulting in paralysis that can last several weeks.

Twenty-six cases of campylobacter, linked to eating liver, had been reported to public health officials in the past year. That figure was likely to be conservative, as they received detailed information on less than a third of campylobacter cases, Dr McLean said.

"It just appears to be something that we've noticed within the last 18 months or so, that is occasionally identified when people say what they've been eating or what they think might have caused it. It keeps popping up as a cause and it seems to be, anecdotally, that it's becoming more popular in restaurants and also for people at home."

Regional Public Health had been working with eateries, via local councils, to increase awareness about the safe cooking of liver, she said.

Jacob Brown, chef at Miramar's The Larder, said he hoped the public health warning would not put people off eating liver. Overcooking it was "criminal", as it became tough and grainy, he said.

Any liver that was looked after correctly once it was removed from the animal should be fine.

HOW TO AVOID GETTING SICK

Cook liver in small batches for at least five minutes until juices are clear. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, clean boards with hot soapy water and thoroughly clean kitchen utensils. Store raw liver products separately and well covered to prevent cross-contamination of other foods.

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