Campylobacter levels in fresh chickens sold in shops in the UK have been greatly reduced, according to the last set of results from the third annual retail survey conducted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The full year's results showed that on average, across the entire market, 6.5% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination (over 1,000 colony forming units per gram, or cfu/g). This is down from 19.7% in 2014-15 when the survey began.
The third survey covered the period August 2016 to July 2017 and was conducted on a total of 3,980 whole fresh chickens sampled at retail.
Major findings from the survey include:
-- The figure for high-level campylobacter prevalence (more than 1,000 cfu/g) among the top nine retailers (based on market share) was 5.6%.
-- The group comprising smaller retailers and butchers had a significantly higher prevalence at 17.1% compared with the top nine retailers.
-- The retailers with significantly lower prevalence than the average among all retailers were Morrisons (2.9%), Tesco (4.2%) and Waitrose (2.7%).
-- The percentage of chickens positive for campylobacter at any level significantly fell from 73.2% in 2014-2015 to 54% in 2016-2017.
-- In the last period of the third annual survey (April-July 2017), based on a total of 1,437 chicken samples, 5.9% of chickens had high levels of campylobacter (over 1,000 cfu/g), down from 20.1% for the same period in 2014.
"The full year's results from our third annual survey show the significant progress the industry has made in reducing campylobacter levels in chicken, compared with their starting point", FSA Chair Heather Hancock said.
The FSA has made changes in its annual campylobacter retail survey, with the major retailers now taking on the responsibility of publishing their own results from tests that follow a protocol agreed upon by both the FSA and the retailers.
Thus, the top nine retailers (based on market share) will now publish their own campylobacter results on their consumer websites. These results will no longer be included in the FSA's annual survey.
"This is a welcome step towards greater transparency", said Hancock.
"Whilst we will keep a close eye on the performance of bigger retailers, it means the FSA can now focus our efforts on smaller establishments, where we haven't yet seen the same level of improvement and where more progress needs to be made", Hancock added.
Foodborne campylobacter is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK. The FSA has been testing chickens for campylobacter and publishing the results since February 2014 as part of its campaign to bring together the whole food chain to tackle the problem.
All chickens, regardless of which retail outlet they are bought from, are at risk of being contaminated with campylobacter, according to the FSA.-Rick Alberto