November 30, 2021


Campylobacter chicken levels still high at small retailers in UK



The percentage of chicken sold at smaller retailers in the United Kingdom that is contaminated with high levels of Campylobacter remains above a Food Standards Agency target.


A UK-wide survey sampled 1,008 chickens from August 2019 to October 2020. It looked at levels of Campylobacter on whole fresh retail chickens from independent shops, butchers and smaller chains such as Iceland, McColl's, Budgens, Nisa, Costcutter and One Stop.


Campylobacter was detected in 59.6% of the chicken skin samples from non-major retailers and 12.8% of them were above 1,000 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) of chicken skin. This continues to be higher than levels found in samples from the nine major retailers.


The highest single count was 89,000CFU of Campylobacter per gram of skin. The proportion of highly contaminated chickens was the most for butchers compared to the stores that are part of smaller retail chains.


The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has a maximum acceptable level of no more than 7% of birds with more than 1,000CFU/g of Campylobacter. In 2019, the UK reported 58,718 cases of campylobacteriosis with raw chicken meat identified as a key vehicle of infection.


More action, including interventions such as improved biosecurity on farms and slaughterhouse measures, is needed to achieve better control of Campylobacter for the smaller retail industry. The focus on these establishments and their suppliers may lead to improvements across the supply chain, including any supplies into the catering trade, according to the report.


In the previous year's survey, Campylobacter was detected in 55.8% of 1,008 samples and 10.8% were above the highest level. However, from 2017 to 2018, the pathogen was found in 75.4% of 814 samples and 14.7% were higher than 1,000CFU/g.


The percentage of highly contaminated samples in the latest survey was significantly more in larger chickens weighing more than 1,750 grams (3.8 pounds) compared to smaller birds.


Comparing production plant approval codes showed differences in the percentages of chicken samples with more than 1,000CFU/g, ranging from zero to 34.9%, but the number of samples from each processing site was different. This could reflect differences in slaughterhouse hygiene practices or in the proportion of highly contaminated chicken flock batches they receive, the report found.


Campylobacter jejuni was the main type isolated while Campylobacter coli was identified in about a quarter of available samples. A combination of both species was found in a small percentage. Campylobacter coli was more frequent in samples of chickens reared with access to range than from standard birds.


No significant differences in the percentage of highly contaminated chickens between those reared without access to range, free-range, or organic were found. However, the sample size was smaller for free range than standard chickens and smallest for organic.


The percentages of isolates with genetic antimicrobial resistance (AMR) determinants found in the study were similar to those in previous years.


Experts recommended that AMR in Campylobacter isolates from retail chickens continue to be monitored with an emphasis on strains with co-resistance to ciprofloxacin and erythromycin.


- Food Safety News