FSA suspends Campylobacter on chicken retail survey

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

FSA: Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK
FSA: Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK

Related tags Food standards agency Retailing Campylobacter

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has suspended its survey measuring Campylobacter levels on chickens from retail as test methods could not be relied upon to give accurate retailer comparisons.

Results had come from measuring the pathogen on the neck skin of the chicken – as it is generally the most contaminated part of the bird.

However, some processors are removing it before birds are on supermarket shelves which makes it difficult to compare one retailer with another as chicken samples now contain varying amounts, said the FSA.

“This is good news for the consumer because it reduces the amount of Campylobacter on the bird, but it gives us a problem with our analyses​,” said the agency.

“We have therefore decided to suspend the survey for the time being while we look again at what sort of testing we might do to provide clear information on the progress being made by retailers to tackle Campylobacter.”

Amending testing protocol

The agency will publish results of the third quarter in late May but will only give an overall figure for the amount of Campylobacter and will not break the figures down by retailer.

It said it hopes to restart sampling in the summer and the long term goal is for industry to do its own testing and publish results to an agreed set of standards from the FSA.

Results from a pilot with the British Poultry Council to test practical aspects of official controls in poultry slaughterhouses will be available next month.

It included verification activities for microbiological quality and a microbiological criterion for Campylobacter.

Geoff Ogle, Food Standards Scotland (FSS) chief executive, said: “Campylobacter reduction is our top food safety priority and we will continue to work closely with FSA to keep the pressure on UK retailers and the poultry industry to continue to drive down the levels of contamination on fresh chicken.

“We are also collaborating with Scottish partners to support our objective to reduce the impact of this bug on public health in Scotland.”

Progress made

In the latest set of findings published in February, the pathogen was present on 59% of samples, down from 74% in the same months of the previous year and 76% from the last set of results.

Results from the second quarter of testing (October to December 2015) also showed a decrease in birds with the highest level of contamination from the same months last year.

A total of 11% tested positive for this level, more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g), down from 19% in October to December 2014.

Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA, said tackling Campylobacter remains a number one priority.

The ultimate test to show whether our campaign is working is to see whether fewer people get ill. That’s why we want to see 100,000 fewer cases of campylobacter each year from the end of March 2017. So there’s no let up for industry: we want to see continuing efforts to reduce this bug on our chickens.”

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said it is vital the FSA keeps the pressure on supermarkets to reduce Campylobacter levels in chicken.

“While there has been some progress recently, levels of contamination and related illness remains too high so a sustained effort is still required to fight this.”

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