Extensive sampling covering nine top grocery retailers indicated that only Tesco could claim the amount of its samples showing the highest levels of contamination was below the industry average.
Just 12.8% of samples from its stores were in this tier – more than 1,000 colony forming units (cfu) per gramme.
By contrast, Asda was the only main retailer with more chicken contaminated by campylobacter at the highest level than the industry average, with 29.7% of samples in this group.
“However, the results suggest that over the period of the survey none of the retailers achieved the joint industry target for reducing campylobacter,” the FSA commented. Targets to reduce the proportion of birds yielding the highest contamination levels to 10%.
That said, the FSA stressed the publication of case studies by Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, the Co-op and Waitrose showed positive results from their recently implemented campylobacter reduction plans.
“The data show significant decreases in the incidence of campylobacter on their raw whole chickens. The tests were carried out on more recent samples than those taken from the FSA survey samples, with some targeted to demonstrate the effect of particular interventions.”
A new survey would start this summer, again sampling fresh whole chickens from all types of shops. Continued testing would help the FSA to measure the impact of the interventions now being introduced by the industry to tackle campylobacter, it said.
The FSA’s figures are based on 4,011 samples of chickens, and their packaging, sold in the chillers of major supermarkets from February 2014 to February 2015.
Consolidating four separate quarters of results, the FSA noted the overall statistics were similar to the nine-month figures.
Levels of contamination
A total of 19% of samples had tested positive for the highest levels of contamination – more than 1,000 colony forming units per gramme. Almost three quarters – 73% - tested positive for some level of contamination.
Commenting on the results, Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which? said: “It beggars belief that nearly three-quarters of chickens on sale in supermarkets are still infected with this potentially deadly bug and that no retailers have met the FSA's target.”
“With Sainsbury now publicly committing to tackling campylobacter, it's encouraging all supermarkets have acknowledged the need to take action, but much more needs to be done to make chicken safe. We now need to see all supermarkets actively reducing levels of campylobacter.”
The British Poultry Council (BPC) said: “The BPC and its members remain committed to reducing campylobacter in chicken as a top priority.
“We are active in the ACT [Acting on Campylobacter Together] board, chaired by former National Farmers Union director general Richard MacDonald. This group is facilitating the adoption of interventions throughout the supply chain.”
Industry knowledge of the bug was increasing quickly through dedicated research and practical trials of ways to tackle it, it said.
“As highlighted by the FSA, individual producers and their retail customers are working bilaterally to trial options including enhanced biosecurity, management of thinning, improved processing, temperature treatments, and novel packaging. It is worth reiterating that campylobacter is killed by thorough cooking and cross contamination can easily be avoided by good kitchen hygiene practices.
“The BPC is committed to ensuring that when practical and effective solutions for beating campylobacter are developed they will be made available to all producers.”
Information released by the FSA earlier this month suggested a third of the UK population would become ill as a result of campylobacter contamination at some point in their lives.
It is recognised as the most common form of food poisoning, generating 280,000 cases annually in the UK alone.
For the latest detailed statistics from the FSA, click here.
Full-year campylobacter results
No. of samples
% +ve skin samples
% skin samples > 1,000 cfu/g
% +ve pack samples