Seven out of 10 chickens positive for Campylobacter - FSA

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

None of the retailers are meeting the target for reducing Campylobacter, said FSA
None of the retailers are meeting the target for reducing Campylobacter, said FSA

Related tags: Campylobacter, Food safety, Food

70% of chickens sold in UK supermarkets have tested positive for Campylobacter, according to the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Survey results also reveal 18% of chickens tested positive above the highest level of contamination - above 1,000 colony forming units per gram (>1,000 cfu/g).

In total, 1,995 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens have been tested, data shows variations between retailers but none are meeting the end-of-production reduction target, said the FSA.

The agency said the food industry, especially retailers, need to do more to reduce the amount of Campylobacter on fresh chicken.

Figures for the first two quarters of a year-long study show an increase in contamination from Q1 to Q2, likely due to samples being taken during summer months when an increase is often seen because of warmer weather.

Retail performance

Supermarket Asda was the worst performing with 78% of skin samples positive for the pathogen out of 312 samples.

Testing also revealed 28% of skin samples higher than 1,000 cfu/g and 12% of pack samples positive.

Tesco has the lowest rate of samples testing positive with 64% of the 607 samples, 11% above the highest level of contamination and 3% of pack samples contaminated.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) said it viewed the release of retail survey data as another step to reduce the number of cases of food poisoning by raising awareness amongst consumers.

“The data released from six months of sampling shows that all producers and retailers have levels in the same range. The difference between upper and lower in overall level of Campylobacter in flocks is not statistically significant when examined against confidence intervals.

“This reinforces how universal and challenging the issue is and the complex nature of Campylobacter.”

The UK-wide survey will review the levels of Campylobacter on fresh whole retail chickens and their packaging, testing from February 2014 to February 2015.

The survey will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from a range of UK retail outlets.

An FSA survey from August showed around six in ten fresh chicken samples tested were contaminated with Campylobacter.

Which? and BRC reaction

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said supermarket bosses should hang their heads in shame.

“These results are a damning indictment of supermarkets and consumers will be rightly shocked at the failure of trusted household brands to stem the tide of increasingly high levels of campylobacter. 

“It’s now vital that the industry cleans up its act and works hard to restore consumer confidence. We want to see supermarkets not only publishing effective plans that tackle these scandalously high levels but also demonstrate they’re taking real action to make chicken safe.”

A survey from the consumer group reveals people are concerned about levels of the bug in chicken sold at supermarkets, with the majority saying it is too high.

It found six in ten consumers (61%) expressed concern about the high levels, with three-quarters (77%) saying they thought they were too high.

More than half (55%) thought that there wasn’t enough information regarding levels in chicken.

Andrew Opie, director food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said it supports the work of the FSA to get clear advice to consumers about proper cooking and kitchen hygiene.

“Today’s figures are an important reminder that we have not yet found a way to prevent the presence of Campylobacter in raw chicken and supermarkets are working even harder to find solutions to help consumers such as leak-proof packaging for all raw chicken and new roast in the bag products – this is our top priority for food safety.

“There has been concern that implementing a solution to prevent Campylobacter will mean the cost of chicken increases but we believe any increase should be small and in our competitive market retailers will work with their suppliers to do everything they can to avoid passing this on to consumers.”

The Joint Working Group on Campylobacter launched a website allowing consumers to follow its progress in tackling the bacterium this week.

It provides advice to consumers on how to tackle the bug at home.

Campylobacter study in Denmark

Meanwhile, Campylobacter contributes most to the burden of disease in Denmark, according to a study from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark.

It ranked three foodborne bacteria according to the burden of disease they impose on society as a whole for the first time.

The National Food Institute and the Statens Serum Institut calculated the real burden of disease from infections caused by Salmonella, Campylobacter and verotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC).

The burden of disease is reported in DALYs (disability adjusted life years) which are a measure of how many years the total population loses when people have to live with a reduced quality of life and/or die earlier than expected due to disease.

The total burden of disease was highest for Campylobacter with 1,593 DALYs, followed by salmonella (389 DALYs) and VTEC (113 DALYs).

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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