Assessment of safety risks associated with handling chicken as based on practices and knowledge of a group of South African consumers

16 Aug 2019

Chicken meat has been identified as one of the most important food vehicles of pathogens, particularly Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter spp. Consumer food safety knowledge and behaviour can substantially contribute to the prevention of foodborne illness. The main objective of this study was to assess the practices and knowledge of a group of South African consumers with respect to handling raw chicken meat, and the associated safety risks with the aim of reducing the risk of foodborne illness at the consumer level. Data were collected through a web-based cross-sectional survey (n = 863). Results showed that a substantial proportion of consumers do not handle raw chicken correctly during purchasing (55%) and thawing (44%); and do not wash their hands correctly before (31%) and after (36%) handling raw chicken. With regard to knowledge on factors affecting the safety of chicken meat, 48% of the respondents believed that refrigeration prevents the growth of bacteria in raw chicken, 93% did not know the maximum safe temperature for refrigerating raw chicken, 26% would refreeze raw chicken once thawed and 45% indicated that chicken that looks and smells fresh could not make them sick. Although the majority of consumers (at least 85%) indicated concerns about the safety risks associated with chicken meat, only 38% were rated as following good practices and 28% as having good knowledge about factors affecting the safety of chicken meat. Overall, consumers aged 40 years and older reported following more safe chicken handling practices and had more knowledge thereof than consumers below 40 years. The findings reflect safety risks related to consumers’ knowledge and practices when handling chicken meat and highlight the need for consumer education. Development of safe chicken handling guidelines to prevent temperature abuse of chicken meat, transmission of pathogenic bacteria and cross-contamination are needed.