The West of Scotland Food Liaison Group report, Survey of Campylobacter Contamination of Packaged Poultry, was designed to determine the incidence levels of Campylobacter contamination in wrapped poultry samples.
Of the 42 samples collected from retail outlets in west Scotland, Thermotolerant Campylobacter was discovered to be present on five (11.9%) raw poultry external wrappings.
Potentially-fatal Campylobacter is the most commonly identified cause of bacterial food poisoning in the UK – sickening over 300,000 people in England and Wales in 2008, and more than 6000 in Scotland in 2009.
Raw poultry is the most common source of the bacteria, but it has also been identified in red meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water.
Detection of the bacteria indicates the potential for wrapped raw poultry to act as a source for cross-contamination to other ready-to-eat foods, said the report.
“These results suggest that there is a need for improvements in the way that raw packaged poultry is presented and handled within the retail environment in order to minimise the spread of Campylobacter,” added the researchers.
“The FSA should continue to work with the industry to promote strategies for Campylobacter reduction at all stages of chicken production and the use of leak-proof packaging at retail.”
The majority of the tested samples were detailed as “poultry meat on a plastic or polystyrene tray and within a heat seal plastic closure.”
All five of the contaminated external packaging samples, which were from whole chickens, were packaged in this manner.
External contamination was most likely due to contamination from other sources rather than packaged poultry meat, the report added.
It added that all the tainted samples did not come from the same source.
“It is also important that consumers are made fully aware of the risks that may be associated with the handling of raw chicken products; including when they are still in their packaging, and that the messages on good hygiene practice continue to be reinforced,” the report added.
Currently in the UK, there are no food safety regulations for campylobacter – however, guidelines published by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) state that the presence of the bacteria in RTE food is unsatisfactory.
A previous Birmingham City Council study, which examined packaging from 20 raw chicken products, found campylobacter on 40% of packaging surfaces.
FoodProductionDaily.com reported earlier this year on measures being introduced by Irish food safety authorities to cut campylobacter contamination in the supply chain.
Guidance from the Food Safety Authority Ireland (FSAI) made a series of recommendations throughout the supply chain including voluntary monitoring in slaughterhouses, a series of “interventions” to reduce the bacteria in post-production practices such as packaging.
It also suggested an incentive scheme – a bonus or penalty based on performance.