Do people understand the risk when opening that package of raw chicken breasts? Are they concerned about safe handling of the packaging material and the associated raw chicken juice (or more technically, the exudate)? Maybe not as much as they should.
A recent study looked at the prevalence of Campylobacter, one of the leading causes of sporadic diarrheal illness in the US, within the package as well as on the outside of the package. They found that Campylobacter was present in the chicken juice in 60% of packages where the chicken juice was tested. As for the packaging, none of the outer surfaces had Campylobacter, except for one of the packages that was leaking.
Campylobacter is a commonly found on raw chicken, found on the surface of both skin-on and skin-off chicken, whether parts or whole. Within the package, it can be found in the juice that comes off the bird, the surface of the bird, and the inner packaging. Because of this, it is important that consumers not only properly handle the chicken meat, but also the packaging and any dripping chicken juice from the bird or the package. Drops of chicken juice should be cleaned properly as you go. Of course, handwashing is critical after handling the meat and the package. It is also important to purchase packages that are not leaking and to make sure that the less-than-attentive store clerk bags the raw chicken separate from the other foods (in plastic).
Since chicken juice is clear, unlike exudate from red meat which is red in color, drops are more easily missed, or perhaps, not given the same attention. However from a pathogen standpoint, this research shows that there is a high risk level for pathogen contamination in that chicken juice.
Detection of Campylobacter on the Outer Surface of Retail Broiler Chicken Meat Packages and on Product Within
Food Protection Trends, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 176-182, May 2016
Volume 36, Issue 3: Pages 176–182
Mark E. Berrang, Brian B. Oakley, Richard J. Meinersmannn
The objective of this study was to compare prevalence of Campylobacter on the outside of broiler meat packages to that on the product inside the same packages. Chicken meat products were purchased at retail. Samples comprised whole carcasses and six different cut-up-part products. Fifteen packages of each type of product were purchased (n = 105). The exterior surface of each package was sampled, the package was sanitized, and opened, and exudate or product rinse was collected. Samples were cultured for the presence of Campylobacter spp. Overall, 41 of 105 packages (39%) had detectable numbers of Campylobacter associated with the product within. This included some of each type of product. One of 105 packages had detectable numbers of Campylobacter on the outer surface. That package was one of six characterized as leaky. Campylobacter isolates were subtyped using multi-locus sequence typing; 29 sequence types identified were either C. jejuni (n = 19) or C. coli (n = 10). The outer surface isolate was the same subtype as the associated exudate isolate. Although various Campylobacter subtypes were found on the inside of a substantial percentage of retail broiler meat packages, the outer surface of intact, non-leaky packages can be reasonably expected to be free of Campylobacter.