Don’t wash raw chicken, British health officials are telling consumers in a new awareness campaign that aims to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Campylobacter is the most common source of food-related illness in Canada and the UK, authorities say.

The illness can cause abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and vomiting.


As part of the UK food safety campaign, chefs are encouraged not to wash raw chicken on TV. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire/Associated Press)

"Although people tend to follow recommended practice when handling poultry, such as washing hands after touching raw chicken and making sure it is thoroughly cooked, our research has found that washing raw chicken is also common practice. That’s why we’re calling on people to stop washing raw chicken and also raising awareness of the risks of contracting campylobacter as a result of cross-contamination," Catherine Brown, chief executive of the Food Standards Agency said in a release announcing the campaign on Monday.

The concern is washing chicken could help spread contaminated droplets to hands, counters, cooking equipment and clothing.

Every year during holiday seasons, health officials in Canada remind consumers to wipe areas with bleach to kill bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Prevention tips include: 

  • Thoroughly cook all food, especially poultry, to the appropriate cooking temperature. Use a digital food thermometer.
  • Keep raw food away from other food while shopping, storing, preparing and serving foods.
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them, clean counters and cutting boards and wash your hands regularly.

Most people recover from campylobacteriosis without treatment. Those suffering from illness should drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and oral rehydration fluids are helpful, the Public Health Agency of Canada says.

Young children, the elderly and people with other illnesses are at greatest risk for dehydration.

In certain cases,  campylobacteriosis can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, reactive arthritis and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious condition of the nervous system, the UK agency said.

This is Food Safety Week in the UK.