Data consolidated nine months of figures with the next set expected in May. More than 3,000 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens and packaging have been tested.
19% of chickens tested positive within the highest band of contamination – 1,000 colony forming units per gram (>1,000 cfu/g).
7% of packaging tested positive but only three out of more than 3,000 samples tested positive at the highest band of contamination.
Samples processed were chicken skin and sponge swabs taken from chicken carcasses.
The Stomacher paddle blender was used to process chicken skin and sponge swabs to maximise bacterial recovery at the pre-enrichment phase.
Stuart Ray, technical director at Seward, said the traditional techniques of horizontal isolation of Campylobacter are reliable but slow.
“New real-time PCR techniques require shorter pre-enrichment following Stomaching which could reduce time to result to just 24 hours, to potentially enable processors to clear products before shipping.
“The quality of the sample produced by the Stomacher is essential for the reliability of this new approach.”
Results showed Tesco (925 samples, 68.2% skin samples positive) is the only one of the main retailers which has a lower incidence of contaminated chicken contaminated at the highest level, compared to industry average.
However, none of the retailers are achieving the joint industry target for reducing Campylobacter.
Tesco said the levels found on chicken tested from its stores were below the UK average of 72.9%.
“We were one of the first retailers to introduce more robust leak proof packaging in 2011, and continue to work with suppliers to try and keep flocks free of Campylobacter and implement best practices with processors.
“We will be conducting the very first full scale commercial trial of rapid surface chilling in partnership with one of our suppliers.
“We funded the work that led to the development of the carcass washing guidelines, now available to the industry. All of our sites have been independently audited for control of Campylobacter, including compliance to this guidance and other best practices.”
Out of 103 samples from Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) 72.2% returned positive skin samples.
M&S said it had joined with 2 Sisters Food Group for market research and to test ways to reduce the pathogen and has produced a five step plan including zero thinning, blast surface chilling and clear labelling.
Asda was the worst again with 78.9% skin samples positive from 491 samples, Morrison’s 76.2% positive from 271 samples and Co-op 75.6% positive from 274 samples.
The joint FSA-industry target is to reduce the prevalence of the most contaminated chickens (greater than 1000 cfu/g) to below 10% at the end of the slaughter process, by the end of 2015.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said the high and rising levels was unacceptable
“While four major supermarkets have made their action plans public, the remaining three have yet to say how they’re planning to tackle this bug.
“People need reassurance that supermarkets are doing everything they can to make chicken safe. The remaining retailers must publish their plans and commit to action now before consumers lose confidence in them.”
Andrew Large, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said members are trialling interventions.
These include education in the kitchen, novel packaging, temperature treatment, improved washing and re-scaling at slaughterhouse and crate and module washing during transport.
“We welcome the news that retailers and their suppliers are making significant progress, and hope that proven technology will be made commercially available across the sector.
“The BPC remains committed to collaborative working between industry, retailers, and regulators, as we believe this is where long-term consistency will emerge.”