‘Pink’ chicken livers putting consumers at campylobacter risk

A trend towards serving chicken livers rare, or ‘pink’, is increasing the threat level of campylobacter, which is responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning a year according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). 

Research from the universities of Manchester, Bangor and Liverpool indicated that over half (52%) of professional chefs questioned wanted to serve chicken livers so rare that they would not reach 70˚C – the sufficient level to kill campylobacter.

The study investigated the cooking times for chicken liver included in a number of popular current recipes – many of which suggest serving chicken livers pink and cooking them for times that are not long enough to kill the harmful bacteria.

“Chicken livers are served in many pubs and restaurants around the country, and the trend seems to be for them to be served pink,” said Dr Paul Cross of Bangor University’s School of Environment, Natural Resources & Geography.

“The research asked over 1,000 members of the public and the chefs about their preferences, and whether they could identify safely cooked meats. The public were not able to identify safely cooked livers by sight. Almost a third of the public participants identified livers as ‘safe’ which in fact had predicted campylobacter survival rates of between 48% and 98%.”

Professor Dan Rigby of The University of Manchester and one of the lead authors on the paper said that consumers were being influenced by trends in eating other kinds of meat – such as steak – rare. However, this is extending to higher risk meats such as chicken livers and beef burgers.

“We found that many chefs were able to identify cooked livers that reached the temperature necessary to kill the pathogens but their preferences for the taste and texture of pink livers may be overriding their knowledge of food safety,” he explained.

“In contrast, the public were consistent in their choices – they tended to select dishes to eat that they thought met safe cooking guidelines. This is a concern, because the public were also poor at identifying by sight whether a cooked chicken liver has been cooked sufficiently to be safe. Given the high levels of contamination of UK chicken with campylobacter, these survival rates suggest that the current trend for pink chicken liver recipes may be contributing to the public health burden of campylobacter infection.”

Other influences in consumer preferences included cooking programmes on TV and recipes in magazines, with 48% citing these as reasons for the demand in pink chicken liver. Forty-five percent of the questioned chefs also recognised a trend for rarer and pinker chicken livers on TV, in recipes and amongst chefs.

“The fashion for undercooked chicken livers is a worrying trend,” Richard Griffiths, policy director for the British Poultry Council (BPC), told Meat Trades Journal.

“The Food Standards Agency has clear guidance on safe handling and cooking of livers, and all cooks, whether in the home or in the restaurants, should ensure it reaches the recommended 70˚C. Consumers eating out must be able to trust that the food put in front of them is safe.”

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