Food industry ‘winning fight against campylobacter’

By Laurence Gibbons

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food standards agency Chicken Campylobacter

Chicken is getting safer as campylobacter interventions are working
Chicken is getting safer as campylobacter interventions are working
The food industry is winning the fight against campylobacter – the most common cause of food poisoning – as the presence of campylobacter in supermarket chickens continues to fall, according to the latest data released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Results for the second quarter of testing, from October to December 2015, continued to show a decrease in the number of birds with the highest level of contamination from the same months last year.

The latest data showed 11% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination, down from 19% in October to December 2014. Campylobacter was present on 59% of chicken samples, down from 74% in the same months of the previous year.

Successful interventions

Interventions – such as SonoSteam technology, the trimming of neck skins and biosecurity – were helping to reduce the presence of campylobacter in chicken.

Retailers and processors must ensure the interventions that are working are embedded in industry practice, the FSA’s director of policy Steve Wearne said.

“These results are heading in the right direction and we must continue to build on this progress,” ​he said.

Campylobacter results – at a glance

  • 280,000 people suffer food poisoning each year
  • Campylobacter is the number one cause of the bug
  • 11% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter
  • 59% of chicken samples showed a presence of campylobacter
  • 966 birds were sampled

“We have also arrived at a point where consumers expect access to data about campylobacter, so the FSA must ensure its survey remains robust and work with industry to ensure as much sampling data as possible are available to the public.”

The trimming of the neck skin, the most highly contaminated skin area, meant chickens were carrying less campylobacter. The results of this intervention made it difficult to compare with the first year’s survey results. That’s because most samples from the previous year will have analysed more neck skin, the FSA said.

The FSA will review the impact of neck trimming to ensure the survey results remain robust.

Industry targets

The most heavily contaminated birds, carrying more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g), were the focus of the current target agreed by industry, which is equivalent to no more than 7% of chickens at retail having the highest levels of contamination.

Research has shown that reducing the proportion of birds in this category will have the biggest positive impact on public health, the FSA claimed.

In this second quarter of the FSA’s second survey, 966 samples of fresh whole chilled UK-produced chickens and packaging were tested. The chickens were bought from large UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers. The survey started sampling in July 2015.

Meanwhile, look out for Bernard Matthews’ technical director Jeremy Hall’s expert views on campylobacter in the March edition of Food Manufacture.

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