3 December 2010
Over the last two years the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has noticed an increase in the number of outbreaks of campylobacter infections associated with the consumption of poultry liver pâté/parfait at a number of catering establishments.
Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in Britain and there were almost 60,000 cases last year. Poultry is a known risk factor for campylobacter and campylobacter is common in raw poultry meat. The best way to avoid transmission is to have good storing, handling and cleaning habits when using raw meat and to cook meat thoroughly.
The HPA maintains a surveillance system for foodborne outbreaks in England and Wales. When the HPA first noticed this increase in the number of Campylobacter outbreaks, it investigated further and established a link to the consumption of chicken liver pâté/parfait mainly at restaurants.
Dr Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic infections at the HPA, said: “It has become apparent that chicken liver pâté/parfait is being served more frequently. This product is also being promoted in Christmas recipes published in magazines and the instructions do not always stress clearly enough how very important it is to ensure that livers are cooked sufficiently to kill the campylobacter. The public and the catering industry need to be aware that undercooking this product, i.e. allowing the centre to remain pink, can result in food poisoning.
“As part of the investigations the HPA liaised with both the Food Standards Agency who issued advice to caterers in July 2010 reminding them to cook livers thoroughly.
“The FSA is this month reissuing this advice because the number of outbreaks has not dropped, and with the Christmas season approaching, it’s important to get the message across than chicken liver products need to be cooked thoroughly. Food poisoning is an unpleasant experience for most people but for those with underlying health conditions it can be extremely serious.”
The Food Standards Agency guidance is available from the FSA website.
Upon notification of outbreaks of foodborne disease in England and Wales, the HPA obtains data from the outbreak investigations via a standard, structured questionnaire, which is stored in a dynamic database. The frequency of outbreaks is reviewed along with transmission routes and implicated food vehicles.
As part of the investigations the HPA liaised with both the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Environmental Health who have separate roles when dealing with an outbreak of foodborne illness in a commercial setting.
The role of the HPA is to investigate outbreaks and issue advice and guidance as appropriate. We use the Health Protection Report to make other health professionals’ across the country aware of ongoing outbreaks and issues which could affect people in their area and help with diagnosis.
The role of the local Environmental Health department is to look at the various cooking and cleaning practices within the catering establishment and advise them on best practice. In these cases they went to the premises to look at procedures and found that chicken livers being used to make parfait or pate were being deliberately undercooked to leave them pink in the centre. Not having meat cooked thoroughly to kill the bacteria means that people can become infected.
The FSA is an independent regulator and consumer protection body.
They work with business, local authorities and other food law enforcement bodies to protect the safety of our food.
Case numbers over the last few years are:
Symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pains and cramps, fever, and generally feeling unwell. Most cases start to clear up after two to three days of diarrhoea and from 80 to 90 per cent settle within one week.
For more information or for media enquiries only please contact the HPA press office in Colindale on:
Louise Brown 020 8327 7080
Eleanor Bunch 020 8327 7751
Kathryn Swan 020 8327 7097
Georgina Fletcher 020 8327 6690
Emma Gilgunn-Jones 020 8327 6647
Last reviewed: 9 December 2010