The first set of quarterly results from a new survey of campylobacter showed 59% of fresh shop-bought chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter. But in only 4% of samples was the bug identified on the outside of the packaging.
“The low levels of contamination found on packaging, shown in the results released today, potentially indicate the effectiveness of the leak-proof packaging for poultry introduced by most retailers, which helps to reduce risks of cross contamination in consumers’ kitchens,” said FSA ceo Catherine Brown.
“There is still a lot more to be done by all elements of the supply chain to ensure that consumers can be confident in the food they buy.
“As soon as we have enough data to robustly compare campylobacter levels in different retailers we will share that data with consumers.”
Shock and dismay
Consumer group Which? reacted with shock and dismay to the FSA results and called on the agency to name the best- and worst-performing retailers according to the findings.
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “The FSA’s survey reveals unacceptably high levels of campylobacter and they must now publish the names of the retailers so consumers are aware of the best and worst performing shops.
“Campylobacter is responsible for thousands of cases of food poisoning and the deaths of 100 people every year so much more must be done to minimise the risk of contamination at every stage of production.”
Campylobacter is killed by thorough cooking, but it is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 people a year. The majority of these cases originate from contaminated poultry.
Previous studies carried out into the prevalence of campylobacter have also indicated that about two thirds of raw poultry carries the bug.
The 12-month FSA survey, running from February 2014 to February 2015, examines the prevalence and levels of campylobacter contamination on fresh whole chilled chickens and their packaging. The survey will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.
Results published today (August 5) are for the first quarter and represent 853 samples.
Brown added: “This survey is an important part of the work we are doing to tackle campylobacter. It will give us a clearer picture of the prevalence of campylobacter on raw poultry sold at retail and help us measure the impact of interventions introduced by producers, processers, and retailers to reduce contamination.
“The chicken supply chain is looking at how interventions such as improved biosecurity on farms, rapid surface chilling, and anti-microbial washes can help reduce campylobacter. So when they take action and invest in interventions designed to make a difference, these survey figures will enable us to see if they really do make an impact.”
The top UK poultry suppliers, including Moy Park, Faccenda and 2 Sisters Food Group, have all invested in substantial initiatives in the past year to help prevent campylobacter contamination.