Health authority issues warning after 110 per cent spike in campylobacter cases across Auckland

STUFF
Chicken is making New Zealanders sick and spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria, say researchers who are calling for safety labels on raw poultry products.

An Auckland health authority has issued a warning after a dramatic spike in food poisoning cases across the region. 

On Wednesday, nine days into the new year, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service said it had already had 111 cases of campylobacter.

"This is an increase of 110 per cent for the same period in 2018, when we had 52," ARPHS medical officer of health Dr Jay Harrower said.

Food poisoning cases have surged with the heat, and the Auckland Regional Public Health Service believes chicken is to blame.
123RF
Food poisoning cases have surged with the heat, and the Auckland Regional Public Health Service believes chicken is to blame.

"We had anticipated there would be the usual seasonal rise, but the magnitude of this rise has far exceeded our expectations."

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Late last year it was reported that New Zealand has one of the world's highest rates of campylobacteriosis, a gastro-intestinal infection caused by the campylobacter bacteria.

Between 6000 and 7000 people fall sick each year and 500 are hospitalised with the illness, which causes diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting for up to a week.

It is estimated that a further 25,000 cases a year go unreported.

Harrower said while ARPHS was investigating the spike in numbers of campylobacter and salmonella, the service could only speculate that people weren't storing, handling or preparing chicken properly.

This was exacerbated by warm weather and outdoor eating, he said.

"While ARPHS does not find out what causes the majority of campylobacter cases, poultry is a very common source of infection," he said.

"Most people recover completely from campylobacter after two to three days of vomiting and diarrhoea although symptoms can persist for up to 10 days.

"In rare cases, however, the infection can lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks its nerves, sometimes resulting in paralysis which can be permanent.

"Auckland Regional Public Health Service is asking people to take care storing, handling and cooking food, especially chicken, over summer, to avoid getting sick with campylobacter."

The figures include all of Auckland's district health boards: with 34 per cent of notifications from Counties Manukau, 22 per cent from Auckland and 42 percent from Waitemata.

NZ FOOD SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Keep raw meat and poultry covered, and store away from ready-to-eat food, fruit, and vegetables.
  • Store raw meat at the bottom of the fridge to stop any leaking juices – which often contain live bacteria – dripping onto other foods.
  • Storing meat in containers will catch any juices and save unnecessary cleaning up.
  • Wash hands with soap and hot water before and after handling raw meat.
  • Ideally, use a separate chopping board for raw meat.
  • Completely defrost meat before cooking to make sure it cooks evenly. Ensure raw meat juices do not drip onto other foods.
  • Do not wash meat before cooking. Washing creates puddles and sprays that spread bacteria around the kitchen.
  • Cook meat, especially poultry, thoroughly until juices run clear.
  • Never return cooked meat to the dish or board that held raw meat, and do not serve with utensils used on raw meat.

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