FOOD safety experts are warning Scots to wash their hands - not raw turkeys - as a new festive food poisoning campaign is launched.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) is highlighting the risks of food poisoning in the run-up to Christmas and New Year, from washing raw poultry and not washing hands properly.

Washing poultry can splash toxic bacteria like Campylobacter over work surfaces and cooking utensils. However, research by Scotland's food safety watchdog found that 58 per cent of Scots are unaware of what Campylobacter is, while 45 per cent of adults admit to washing raw poultry.

Symptoms of infection commonly include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and fever, but in very rare cases the bacteria can trigger irritable bowel syndrome, a form of arthritis or Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare and serious condition of the nervous system.

Cases of campylobacter poisoning increased 36 per cent between 2006 and 2014, when the incidence hit a decade-long high of 6,629. However, by July 28 this year the number of recorded cases was already 6,264, suggesting the final toll of campylobacter poisoning in Scotland in 2016 could be much worse.

The campaign, 'Wash hands, not poultry' will run until December 31 promoting good hygiene practices in the kitchen with hand washing and food preparation at its core. Poor hand-washing is one of the biggest risks of foodborne illnesses. Christmas cooks are also being encouraged to ensure work surfaces are kept clean, with top tips including using separate or colour-coded chopping boards for raw meat and vegetables.

Professor Norval Strachan, chief scientific adviser at FSS, said: “Campylobacter is often found on raw or uncooked meat, particularly poultry. It is the most common cause of foodborne illness in Scotland and it can have some pretty nasty symptoms.

“The research carried out by FSS shows that washing poultry is a common occurrence in households across the country and the levels of people failing to wash their hands before and after preparing food are still high.

“Avoiding cross contamination is one of the best ways to protect yourself from Campylobacter. Washing poultry is actually unnecessary as proper cooking will kill these harmful germs.”

Jacqui McElhiney, head of food protection, science & surveillance at FSS said: “We know everyone is busy in the kitchen at this time of year but it’s important to take the time to follow good hygiene practice when you are preparing and cooking your Christmas meal. No one wants to be ill at Christmas.

“We don’t want to detract from the fun and celebrations of the season and we want our festive campaign to reduce complacency about the risks of food poisoning. Only small behavioural changes are required and our message is simple – wash your hands and not your poultry.”