Bernard Matthews set to blast campylobacter

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Campylobacter is found on the surface of almost all raw chicken
Campylobacter is found on the surface of almost all raw chicken

Related tags: Food standards agency, Food safety, Meat

The campylobacter crisis is set to heat up, with warmer spring and summer weather likely to push up poultry contamination levels, Jeremy Hall, technical director of Bernard Matthews, has warned.

“The industry is aware that the next two quarters’ results are going to be worse,”​ Hall told FoodManufacture.co.uk. “February tends to mirror November and it isn’t going to be until the end of March, early April before we see an uplift.”

After third quarterly Food Standards Agency (FSA) figures surveying raw, shop-bought whole chickens in supermarkets were published in February, indicating 73% tested positive for campylobacter, FSA policy director Steve Wearne told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Not much has changed in the first nine months and we need to see the interventions retailers have made since then having results.”

While he acknowledged that Asda had been hit by the worst results, based on the survey, with 78.9% of samples testing positive for contamination, Wearne added: “None of the other retailers are anywhere near the 10% target set, so they need to take action.”

The FSA’s 2015 target is to reduce the numbers of birds carrying the highest levels of contamination from 27% of the total population slaughtered in the UK – more than 800M a year – to 10%.

Poised to attack

Bernard Matthews is poised to attack the food poisoning bug with its rapid surface chilling technology as it prepares to expand trials of the system.

The poultry processor has developed the cryogenic weapon against germs, which rapidly chills the surface of poultry using vapour delivered at -196o​C, with BOC, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Campden BRI.

Industrial trials with the first prototype tunnel successfully demonstrated that the treatment reduced campylobacter counts in chickens by an average of 90%.

One of the advantages of the approach is that it does not affect the taste, texture or appearance of the chicken. It also complies with current poultry meat marketing regulations.

Following industrial pilot trials in 2013/2014, BOC has continued to work with poultry suppliers and is now seeking agreement to start a full-scale, in-line trial sometime this spring or summer. Hall claims the process would only add about 6p onto the retail cost of a chicken.

BOC is part of Linde, which was showcasing the Preventum rapid surface chilling innovation at Anuga FoodTec this week.

Liquid nitrogen

Chicken carcasses are hung and pass through a tunnel, where they are sprayed with cryogenic liquid nitrogen of food quality. The process commonly takes about a minute and kills campylobacter on the surface of the chickens.

Bernard Matthews argues vociferously that it would enable the poultry industry and the FSA to meet 2015 joint Campylobacter reduction targets.

Asda is working with poultry processor Faccenda on the SonoSteam system, which blasts chicken skins and cavities with a mixture of steam and ultrasound.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer is working with 2 Sisters Food Group to drive down incidences of the pathogen with a five point action plan. The strategy includes tackling bird infection at farm level, rapid surface chilling and double bagging, enabling consumers to load chickens into ovens to cook in their packaging, reducing contamination risks.

Campylobacter bacterium is found on the surface of almost all raw chicken and is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK with an estimated 500,000 cases leading to 80,000 primary care consultations. NHS statistics indicate the pathogen caused 85 deaths in 2012, with the majority of the casualties being the elderly and infirm.

The cost to the UK economy is estimated to be in the region of £900M, representing more than half of the total cost of food-related illness, according to the latest NHS data.

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