A survey has revealed more about people’s attitudes when handling frozen partially cooked chicken at home after the products were linked to a large Salmonella outbreak.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is investigating a spike in Salmonella infections in the United Kingdom from eating frozen raw, breaded chicken products such as nuggets, goujons, dippers, poppers, and kievs.

Between January 2020 and May 2021, there have been 511 salmonellosis cases caused by two strains of Salmonella Enteritidis traced to two suppliers in Poland. For patients where information is available, a third have needed hospital treatment. The majority of those affected are 16 years old or younger.

Earlier this year, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reported that almost 200 people were ill in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden between May 2018 and December 2020 from one of these strains.

In March, FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) commissioned an online survey by Ipsos MORI to identify self-reported consumer behaviors which could increase their risk of foodborne disease.

Handwashing and handling
A total of 3,740 respondents aged 16 to 75 living in the UK completed the survey as they had cooked or eaten coated frozen chicken recently. They were asked about handling, storing, and cooking these items. Young adults, teenagers, and children tend to eat the products more frequently.

Over half of consumers say they always wash their hands when handling coated frozen chicken products, while one in five often do this. One in six only sometimes does it and 4 percent never do.

Almost two-thirds of those who cook these products say uncooked frozen chicken at least sometimes comes into contact with other surfaces such as worktops and plates.

Among those who defrost products, half say they leave them at room temperature, and 44 percent put them in the fridge, some use a microwave and others defrost products in water. Sixty percent of consumers who personally cook products say they cook them within 30 minutes of removal from the freezer.

Over half of those who do the cooking say they always check instructions before cooking. The most common methods for seeing if products are fully cooked are checking the middle is hot, checking the meat is white throughout, seeing the product is golden brown on the outside, following instructions on the label, and using a timer. Ten percent use a thermometer or probe.

Products often contain raw chicken
Frozen chicken products are often cooked with other things such as chips or vegetables. If chicken is cooked at a lower temperature or for a shorter time than advised it may not be thoroughly cooked.

Over a third of those who cook coated frozen chicken products say they put leftovers in the fridge. Fourteen percent say they leave them at room temperature and eat them the same day, and 10 percent do this and eat them the next day.

Narriman Looch, head of animal feed and the foodborne disease control branch, urged consumers to follow cooking instructions to protect themselves and their families.

“It’s important to understand that frozen chicken products often contain raw chicken, even though they may look pre-cooked on the outside. While additional measures have been put in place by food businesses to improve the safety of these products, consumers need to handle these products as they should other raw meat products.”

The FSA advised people to treat the products as raw chicken, ensuring surfaces they have touched are cleaned to avoid the spread of bacteria; to check instructions on the packaging and cook at the correct temperature for the time stated; to wash hands, utensils, and clean surfaces after handling the products and if they need defrosting, follow the storage instructions on the box and always defrost in the fridge.

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