Supermarkets must provide plastic bags in meat aisles to stop the spread of potentially deadly bugs, the chairman of the Food Standards Agency has said.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Heather Hancock revealed the FSA wants shoppers to be handed free disposable bags when buying raw chicken, with special reminders to use them at self-service checkouts.
As bacteria can lurk on the outside of packaging as well as on the inside, she said, an extra plastic bag layer is the “only way” shoppers can be sure they are not spreading bugs onto other food in their shopping baskets.
It comes as fears are mounting that the spread of dangerous bugs including E-coli and campylobacter, is being made worse by the 5p plastic bag tax as people are less likely to pay for a bag to protect other food from raw meat.
The problem is also being made worse by the rise of self-service tills as customers who use them are not being offered a small bag for meat as they would at a traditional till.
Ms Hancock said the FSA wrote to supermarkets around six months ago to check they were providing small bags for raw chicken.
Now this newspaper can reveal that Asda is planning to introduce new warnings on its bags for life urging shoppers to pack raw meat and fish separately to reduce the risk of contamination.
Meanwhile Morrisons has recently introduced red bags for meat so it stands out from other items.
But branches of major supermarkets including Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are continuing not to offer customers free bags for their meat in aisles or at self-service checkouts.
According to the Food Standards Agency campylobacter, which is predominantly found on raw chickens, is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK with an estimated 280,000 people a year affected by it.
The FSA recently warned that half the strains of campylobacter are now resistant to the most effective antibiotics, meaning it is more difficult for medics to treat food poisoning victims.
The call for small bags to be offered for meat comes after a number of shops including Marks & Spencer have started offering reusable shopping bags with anti-bacterial technology to prevent bugs from contaminating food.
A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets, said: “Our members are fully aware of the continued need to help their customers reduce cross contamination and, as they did prior to the introduction of the carrier bag charge, are taking a range of approaches to prevent contamination from uncooked meat based on what works for them and their customers.”
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said, “We remain committed to tackling campylobacter and levels continue to fall. We use leak-proof packaging and customers can also find small bags at the checkout.”
A Morrisons spokesman, said: “Our policy is to supply a small bag or carrier bag specifically for raw meat, fish or poultry to separate from other items, and from a home shopping perspective we provide a separate bag for raw meat – this has recently been changed to a red bag to stand out from other items.”
A Tesco spokesman declined to comment.