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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 07:19 GMT
Bug 'infects two-thirds of turkeys'
Fears have been raised over the Christmas turkeys
Two-thirds of turkeys bought this Christmas in Scotland could be infected with a poisonous bacterium, a food expert has warned.

Aberdeen University bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington said organic birds could be the biggest carriers of the campylobacter bug.

It causes chronic diarrhoea and is the most common cause of food poisoning in white meat hitting 400,000 people a year.

Prof Pennington wants the Scottish Executive to ensure birds are free from the bug.

The annoying thing is that for most people who will suffer food poisoning this Christmas it could have been easily avoidable
Prof Hugh Pennington
A member of the Scottish Food Advisory Committee of the Food Standards Agency, Prof Pennington said he was concerned about the bug's capabilities.

"Campylobacter is not going away. The latest studies show that about 60% of chickens are infected - and I would be staggered if it was not the same rate in turkeys," he said.

"They may look appetising but some have thousands of organisms and if they are not cooked properly people will pick up the bug.

Organic fears

"It is also rampant among wild birds so that means pheasants and partridges also have high rates.

"In fact a study in Denmark among chickens has shown that organic birds had even higher rates than non-organic birds."

Organic birds live longer and have more time to spread the bug.

"People should treat their turkeys as if they have come straight off the farm," Prof Pennington added.

"There is a strong chance that their turkey will have bacteria on it.

'Food poisoning'

"The annoying thing is that for most people who will suffer food poisoning this Christmas it could have been easily avoidable. It is not an act of God."

For most sufferers food poisoning will mean two or three days of sickness but in extreme cases - such as in the sick or old - it can prove fatal.

But if a bird is cooked thoroughly most of the risk of food poisoning is gone and to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen separate implements should be used.

Storing the bird on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator - so it does not drip on other food - washing hands thoroughly, using separate chopping boards and defrosting thoroughly frozen turkeys can also help prevent infections.

George Paterson, director of Food Standards Agency Scotland, said: "Most food poisoning incidents are easily prevented and with a little extra thought and planning everybody can enjoy a delicious and safe Christmas dinner."

Chill-out CD aims to calm turkeys
24 Nov 03  |  Scotland
Disease threat to Christmas turkeys
28 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature

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