You should not wash a chicken before cooking it, Britain's food safety watchdog said on Monday, in a new campaign to reduce food poisoning.

The Food Standards Agency said washing raw chicken spreads the campylobacter bacteria -- the most common cause of food poisoning in Britain -- onto hands, work surfaces clothing and cooking surfaces.

Campylobacter can cause abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea and vomiting, and in some cases death. Those most at risk are children and older people.

Poultry is the main source of the bacteria, which can also cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can leave victims paralyzed.

"Campylobacter is a serious issue. Not only can it cause severe illness and death, but it costs the economy hundreds of millions of pounds a year as a result of sickness absence," FSA Chief Executive Catherine Brown said.

The agency said some 44 percent of people always wash a chicken before cooking it, and that while most people had heard of salmonella and E.coli poisoning, only 28 percent had heard of campylobacter.

[Image via Wikipedia Commons]