February 27, 2015
Campylobacter continues to bug UK fresh chickens
UK poultry meat consumers continue to be bugged by campylobacter, according to the latest set of results of a continuing survey that ends in February.
The latest cumulative results of the survey on campylobacter on fresh chickens over a period of nine months (February 2014-November 2014) showed that UK retailers have not adequately stamped out the biggest cause of food poisoning in the country, as 73% of fresh chickens sold in the country's retail markets are contaminated with the food bug.
The figure is slightly higher than the 70% contamination rate at the end of two-quarter period from February 2014 to August 2014.
The UK Food Standards Agency, or FSA, on Thursday released the latest survey results, which also showed that 19% of the chicken samples tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination, at more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram (>1,000 cfu/g). Chickens with this level of campylobacter contamination are the most likely to infect consumers.
Over the nine-month period, more than 3,000 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens and packaging sold by retailers were tested for campylobacter.
The whole survey runs for 12 months (February 2014 to February 2015), and involves testing around 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers. The FSA said the full set of results is expected to be out by May, adding that overall prevalence of campylobacter, and results for each of the retailers, may change with the next quarter's results, due to be published in May 2015.
'None meeting the target'
The survey also found that so far 7% of packaging tested positive for campylobacter. Only three out of more than 3,000 samples of packaging tested positive at the highest band of contamination.
The FSA said the "data continue to show variations between the retailers but none is meeting the target for reducing campylobacter".
"Our survey is putting pressure on retailers to work with poultry processors to do more to tackle campylobacter. We want the industry to reduce the number of the most highly contaminated chickens as we know this will have the greatest impact on public health", said Steve Wearne, FSA director of policy.
The FSA particularly commended Marks & Spencer for its five-point intervention plan to reduce campylobacter on its chickens. The preliminary results published by M&S indicated a significant reduction in the number of the most highly contaminated birds.
Wearne said, "We now know it is possible to make positive inroads in the reduction of campylobacter. Figures released today (February 26) by M&S show that their intervention plan has resulted in fewer contaminated chickens on sale in their stores. If one retailer can achieve this campylobacter reduction through systematic interventions then others can, and should".
Campylobacter affects an estimated 280,000 people in the UK a year, with poultry as the source of the majority of these cases. "The industry should be making every effort to ensure chickens are as free from campylobacter as possible before they reach customers", Wearne said.
Richard McDonald, chair of the ACT (Acting on Campylobacter Together) board, said: "Although the impact of industry interventions has not been seen in the results from the FSA survey to date, we look forward to seeing progress in the FSA's follow-up survey".
The FSA and the industry both aim to reduce the prevalence of highly contaminated chickens (with more than 1000 cfu/g) to below 10% at the end of the slaughter process, by the end of 2015.
Purchases of chicken in UK groceries-both in terms of volume and sales-declined late last year following extensive media coverage of campylobacter contamination.
Campylobacter contamination in chicken first surfaced after a whistleblower at a poultry factory revealed alleged violations of hygiene rules by two major chicken producers.