People are being urged not to wash raw chicken to protect themselves against a potentially fatal bug.

The fight against the stomach bug campylobacter will be at the centre of this year’s National Food Safety Week, which began today.

Last year there were 489 confirmed cases of campylobacter in the Bradford district, but the real number of cases is likely to be far higher.

This week, Bradford Council's environmental health officers will be visiting some of the areas which reported the highest numbers of cases to offer health advice at luncheon clubs, day nurseries and children’s centres, among other places.

They will also be manning a food advice stall in Oastler Market on Friday, where they will be advising members of the public on how to safely prepare and cook their food.

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and it can be fatal.

It can't be seen, smelled or tasted but thorough cooking is enough to kill the bug. Now people are being urged to take simple steps like not washing carcasses, chilling raw meat and avoiding cross-contamination to protect themselves.

Councillor Val Slater, who oversees environmental health at Bradford Council, said: "People in Bradford can do their part by handling and preparing chicken with extra care – don’t wash raw chicken, cook it properly and enjoy it safely.

"It’s important that we do our part to make sure that people know how to handle and cook food safely for themselves and for their families.

"We’re proud to be keeping people in Bradford safe and well by being part of this campaign to spread the word – and not the germs.”

Across the country, campylobacter is thought to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year, with more than 72,000 of these cases confirmed by laboratory reports.

About four in five cases of campylobacter poisoning come from contaminated poultry and, according to the Food Standards Agency, the bug is found in about 65 per cent of fresh chicken sold in the UK.

Campylobacter poisoning usually develops a few days after consuming contaminated food and leads to symptoms that include abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea and vomiting.

It can last for between two and ten days and can be particularly severe in small children and the elderly.

It can also spark off irritable bowel syndrome, reactive arthritis and in rare cases, Guillain-Barré syndrome – a serious and sometimes permanent condition of the nervous system.