Food safety conference

Retailers deny blocking new campylobacter control

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Retailers have denied blocking rapid surface chilling to combat campylobacter due to fears it would add up to 5p to the cost of poultry
Retailers have denied blocking rapid surface chilling to combat campylobacter due to fears it would add up to 5p to the cost of poultry

Related tags Food safety conference Food safety Food standards agency Campylobacter

Retailers have denied failing to support a new treatment that could slash the incidence of campylobacter food poisoning because it could add to cost of poultry.

The new technique – rapid surface chilling (RSC) – significantly cuts campylobacter infections on the skin on poultry, Bernard Matthews’ group technical director Jeremy Hall told delegates at the Food Manufacture Group’s food safety conference last week.

Hall added: “There’s a degree of resistance to adding to the cost of consumers’ shopping.” ​The new technique – which could be available to shoppers towards the end of next year – was expected to add about 4–5p to the cost of a bird.

But a spokeswoman for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) told the technique had yet to be proven and reliable cost estimates were unavailable.

“The technique has yet to be installed full scale in a processing plant, therefore it has not been possible to demonstrate that the trial results are reproducible under true processing conditions and also that it complies with legal restrictions on carcass temperature,”​ said the spokeswoman. 

‘Discussion between supplier and retailer’

The likely costs of the treatment had also to be established firmly. “Due to the limited number of samples assessed, it has also not been possible to provide a clear estimate on the cost of the technique and this is a matter for discussion between supplier and retailer.”

The spokeswoman added that the installation of the technique would occur only when uncertainties around the legality, logistics and reproducibility are clarified. Also the BRC will not enter into commercial discussions on cost with its members.

But she said retailers were active members of the government and industry joint working group researching interventions to control campylobacter and RSC was one of the trials that had produced promising results. 

In an exclusive video interview​ Hall told this website RSC, involving the application of cryogenic gas, can cut the level of campylobacter infections to below 1,000 organisms/gm, which meets the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) target.

‘Small cost to pay to guarantee food safety’

“It costs a few pence per bird and seems a relatively small cost to pay to guarantee food safety to the family and the home,”​ said Hall.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) agreed with the BRC that more work was needed to prove the effectiveness of RSC.

A BPC spokesman told this website: “Rapid surface chilling is one of a number of interventions that the poultry industry has been pursuing for some while to reduce levels of campylobacter in chicken. The initial results from rapid surface chilling have been encouraging (about 1 log reduction).

“But it is yet to be tested at full production levels and feasibility trials need to be undertaken before we have a complete understanding on the efficacy, cost and other operational impacts of the system.”

The BPC and BRC are part of the joint working group on campylobacter, together with the FSA, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the National Farmers Union.

A range of interventions to reduce campylobacter at every stage of the supply chain are being investigated and research into this complex organism continues, said the BPC spokesman. In addition to RSC, the group is reviewing rapid testing for campylobacter, biosecurity on farm, improved washing, SonoSteam, and novel packaging solutions.

The food safety conference – Safe and legal food in a changing world – was sponsored by: ACO Building Drainage, Activate Lubricants, AON, Detectamet, FFP Packaging Solutions, the Food Advanced Training Partnership and the Institute of Food Research. It took place at the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon, Warwickshire on Thursday October 15.

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