FSA dedicates Food Safety Week (May 18-24) to Chicken Challenge campaign

FSA wants to halve number of Campylobacter cases by end of year

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

FSA figures suggest up to a third of the population could contract Campylobacter
FSA figures suggest up to a third of the population could contract Campylobacter

Related tags: British poultry council, Food safety, Food, Foodborne illness, Campylobacter

An estimated 280,000 people fall ill in the UK with Campylobacter per year, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

FSA released the figure to mark 2015’s Food Safety Week and the launch of the ‘Chicken Challenge’ – its call to the food chain, from industry to consumers, to do their bit to halve the number of Campylobacter food poisoning cases by the end of 2015.

The figure is based on current infection rates of more than a quarter of a million people per year.

FSA is due to publish the latest figures on the levels of contamination reaching consumers – this figure was around 70-80% when data was published in February 2015.

Depending on lifestyle and diet the FSA estimates Campylobacter will affect up to one third of people. Research shows reducing the numbers of the most highly contaminated birds would cut the public health risk by around 50%.

BPC, IFR and Which? comment

The British Poultry Council stressed the poultry industry’s commitment to working with the FSA, retailers and consumers to raise awareness about the importance of proper kitchen safety and food hygiene practices.

Andrew Large, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said the importance of safe handling of meat is timely as barbecue season approaches.

“Poultry is a perfect high-quality and nutritious food to enjoy on the barbecue, but people need to make sure that they prepare and cook food properly,” ​he said.

“Raw chicken need not be washed, and all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces thoroughly washed after preparing raw chicken; as should your hands. Poultry also needs to be thoroughly cooked on the barbecue until juices run clear.”

The Institute for Food Research (IFR) said it is helping by providing knowledge about the bacteria and how they survive in the food chain, and working to translate that to support regulators and industry, to ultimately benefit consumers.

“It's unlikely that we will ever completely eliminate the risks of Campylobacter. Research at IFR and elsewhere continues to show how well these bacteria are adapted to survive in the food chain and on meat,”​ it said.  

We will always have to be aware of the risks of raw poultry, but the more we learn about the bacteria, the better the food industry can reduce how much campylobacter reaches consumers.”

Which? recently welcomed Campylobacter action plans by three supermarkets as part of its campaign ‘Make Chicken Safe’.

The consumer watchdog said Iceland, Asda and Aldi made their plans known meaning Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Co-operative, Asda, Aldi and Iceland have published plans to tackle Campylobacter.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said it needs to see the plans translate into action.

“It’s good to see Iceland committing to tackling Campylobacter and we look forward to seeing more detail on the specifics of its plans, including actions to be taken at farm level,” ​he said.

“As with all retailers, we need to see the plans translate into action to combat this potentially deadly bug.”

When Aldi revealed its plans, Lloyd said: “We need to see all supermarkets demonstrate to their customers that they will bring down levels of Campylobacter in the chicken we buy.”

After Asda published a plan, he said: "With only two supermarkets left to publish their action plans, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s now have nowhere to hide.

“We want both retailers to publish detailed plans with firm timescales, setting out exactly what they will to do to protect their customers from Campylobacter."

Food Safety Week action

Nina Purcell, director at the FSA, said it has been working hard to get industry to reduce the number by cutting the level of contamination on shop-bought chickens.

“This Food Safety Week, we’re taking that one step further by asking the public to take the ‘Chicken Challenge’ and pledge to take action to help protect themselves,” ​she said.

“At the moment, up to a third of us could fall ill with Campylobacter at some point in our lives. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to reduce that figure.

“If everyone lives up to their promises – the FSA, consumers, and the industry – then this really can happen, hugely reducing the number of people who get ill every year.”

The ‘Chicken Challenge’ is asking people to store raw chicken separately from other food, covered and chilled on the bottom shelf of the fridge, not to wash it as it splashes germs, wash everything that’s touched raw chicken in soap and hot water, including hands and utensils and check it is cooked properly until it’s steaming hot throughout with no pink meat and the juices run clear. 

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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