Paté health alert after infection is found in 80% of chicken liver packs

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IT IS one of Scotland’s most popular starters, but chicken liver paté could leave diners with potentially fatal food poisoning.

Food safety watchdogs have warned that four out of every five packs of chicken livers they tested contained the bug campylobacter – the most common form of bacterial food poisoning.

The shock warning was delivered by the Food Standards Agency Scotland after researchers at Aberdeen University discovered the bug in more than 80 per cent of packs of chicken livers for paté bought from supermarkets and butchers during a two-year survey. But the threat of food poisoning can be removed – provided the paté is cooked properly.

Campylobacter is the most common bacterial cause of infectious intestinal disease in the industrialised world.

Its symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever and nausea. In extreme cases it can kill. Dr Norval Strachan, the researcher in food safety and epidemiology who led the study, said the bug had been found in 81 per cent of raw chicken livers purchased from a typical range of supermarkets and butchers over a two-year period.

He said: “In the UK there are an estimated 500,000 cases of campylobacter infection a year of which more than 15,000 are hospitalised and approximately 75 die as a result.

“Although outbreaks – clusters of linked cases – of campylobacter are not common, last year 14 outbreaks of the bug in the UK were associated with consumers eating chicken or duck liver paté.

“By cooking the livers properly and ensuring good hygiene in the kitchen these episodes can be avoided.

“However, some celebrity chefs and many recipes advocate only partially cooking chicken liver to ensure that it is pink in the middle.

“But this is recipe for disaster because there is a very fine line between cooked and undercooked. If it is undercooked, the consequences are severe as campylobacter can be a very nasty form of food poisoning especially in a young child or the elderly.”

Dr Jacqui McElhiney, policy adviser at the Food Standards Agency in Scotland, underlined the need for proper precautions to be taken to prevent the risk of food poisoning.

She said: “Unfortunately, levels of campylobacter in raw chicken are high, so it’s really important that chefs thoroughly cook chicken livers fully to kill any bacteria, until there is no pinkness left in the centre, even if recipes call for them to be seared and left pink in the middle.

“It’s the only way of ensuring the paté will be safe to serve.”