The results showed a reduction in campylobacter presence of nearly 50% since 2009, which proved that chicken was safe and healthy when properly cooked, according to the British Poultry Council (BPC).
Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the BPC, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “These welcome findings show a big reduction in campylobacter presence on chicken, demonstrating the effectiveness of the biosecurity measures taken by producers and processors, against bacteria which occurs naturally in all live animals.
“The British poultry industry is committed to working with consumer groups, government and retailers to ensure chicken is safe and healthy, and remains Britain’s favourite meat.”
The Which? report tested whole chickens and chicken portions from nine supermarkets. Of the 192 samples, it found 18% to be contaminated with the bacteria, compared with a 65% contamination rate from a Food Standards Agency (FSA) report in 2009.
The consumer group’s findings also revealed 17% of chickens were contaminated with listeria, with 4% of samples containing levels classed as high by the FSA.
The results also showed 1.5% of samples tested positive for salmonella.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, expressed concern that the contamination rates could give rise to food-borne illness exacerbated by poor handling procedures further down the supply chain.
He said: “While the situation is improving, it is still unacceptable that one-in-five chickens we tested were found to be contaminated with campylobacter.
“We want to see the risk of contamination minimised at every stage of production. For far too long, consumers have been expected to clean up mistakes made earlier in the supply chain.”
The FSA said that tackling campylobacter was a “key issue” but warned that, despite the reduction in contamination, seasonal variations made it difficult to assess the merits of the decline.
A spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The levels of campylobacter found in the Which? survey are lower than we have seen in previous findings. It is difficult to make comparisons as the surveys are designed differently and we do see seasonal variations in campylobacter levels.
“We’re working closely with the poultry industry to reduce the risks. This includes setting an agreed target to reduce the number of the most highly contaminated birds through measures such as enhanced bio-security on farms.”