Campylobacter threatens a third of population

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

The FSA is urging consumers to store, handle and cook chicken properly
The FSA is urging consumers to store, handle and cook chicken properly

Related tags Food safety Food standards agency Foodborne illness

Campylobacter could infect a third of the UK population at some stage during their lifetime, according to figures just released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The figure was based on the current infection rates of more than a quarter of a million people a year, the FSA said.

The FSA disclosed the figure to mark the start of 2015’s Food Safety Week. The move also coincides with the launch of the FSA’s ‘Chicken Challenge’ – its call to the whole food chain to halve the number of campylobacter food poisoning cases by 2016.

Biggest cause of food poisoning

Campylobacter is most frequently found on raw poultry and is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK. An estimated 280,000 currently fall ill with campylobacter food poisoning every year.

However, research showed that reducing the numbers of the most highly contaminated birds would cut the public health risk by about 50%, the FSA claimed.

That would save thousands of people a year from falling prey to a painful form of food poisoning which, in some cases, could result in paralysis, it said.

Chilled chickens

The FSA has been leading the industry on reducing campylobacter contamination and is currently conducting a year-long survey looking at the levels of campylobacter on fresh whole chilled retail chickens and their packaging.

In partnership with farmers and producers, through to caterers and retailers, all parts of the food chain have been working to meet the 2015 target.

“At the moment, up to a third of us could fall ill with campylobacter at some point in our lives. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to reduce that figure,”​ said FSA director Nina Purcell.

“If everyone lives up to their promises – the FSA, consumers, and the industry – then this really can happen, hugely reducing the number of people who get ill every year.”

‘Chicken Challenge’

The ‘Chicken Challenge’ is urging people who eat chicken to promise to take the following steps to protect themselves and their families:

  • store raw chicken separately from other food, covered and chilled on the bottom shelf of the fridge
  • avoid washing raw chicken as it splashes germs
  • wash everything that’s touched raw chicken in soap and hot water, including hands and utensils
  • check chicken is cooked properly until it’s steaming hot throughout with no pink meat and the juices run clear

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