Morrisons has upper hand in chicken bug war

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

On average 3.8% of chilled raw whole birds sold in major supermarkets and discount chains tested positive for the highest levels of infection from January to March
On average 3.8% of chilled raw whole birds sold in major supermarkets and discount chains tested positive for the highest levels of infection from January to March
Morrisons has the upper hand in the war against campylobacter, with none of its shop-bought chickens testing positive for the highest levels of contamination of the food poisoning pathogen in the latest quarterly figures.

The results covered the period from January to March 2018. Since September last year, retailers have undertaken to publish their own results independently, under robust protocols laid down by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Just 0.8% of samples from Morrisons tested positive for the bug across the whole of 2017 and the supermarket chain has got off to a strong start this year.

In addition to operating strict on-farm biosecurity measures, cook-in-the-bag packaging and offering the usual consumer advice, the retailer has worked with suppliers to implement a three-pronged processing safeguard. This consisted of applying SonoSteam combination steam and ultrasound treatment, secondary scalding, and rapid surface chilling.

Another rise for Asda

Meanwhile, Asda continued to wrestle with campylobacter, as its quarterly figures revealed another rise in the highest levels of contamination among its chilled raw whole birds. A total of 7.9% of samples tested positive for these levels, ahead of the FSA’s 7% target.

Asda’s levels also passed the FSA threshold in the previous October to December quarter, with 7.2% of samples yielding positive results for contamination at the highest levels.

An Asda spokesperson said: “We work as an industry to tackle campylobacter. We all share suppliers and, wherever possible, we share best practice. We treat the results as being representative of the UK industry as a whole and we work proactively with the regulators to reduce the impact on suppliers and consumers alike."

Asda took several measures, from farm to fork, to cut campylobacter contamination in whole chilled uncooked chickens. These included: conforming to Assured Farm Standards Red Tractor principles; boot washing on farms; rapid heating on the production line; stronger packaging, preventing leaks; and stocking ‘roast in the bag’ birds to stop shoppers handling raw birds.

The FSA said it had changed its analysis method “so that it more accurately reflects the variations between the sample numbers submitted by retailers”​.

Other retailers reported contamination at the higher levels at between 2% and 5.3%, all under the FSA’s threshold.

Average levels of contamination

Overall, the average levels of campylobacter contamination in shop-bought chickens stayed level in the latest quarter.

The FSA reported that, on average, 3.8% of chilled raw whole birds sold in major supermarkets and discount chains tested positive for the highest levels of infection from January to March. That compared with 3.6% for the previous three months.

Samples deemed to exhibit the highest levels of contamination were those testing positive for above 1,000 colony-forming units of campylobacter per gramme.

Retailers covered by the FSA’s public reporting were: Aldi; Asda; Co-op; Lidl; Marks & Spencer; Morrisons; Sainsbury’s; Tesco; and Waitrose. However, the agency has shifted its focus recently to monitor smaller retailers and the independent sector more closely.

“The latest figures are consistent with previous results and show we are consolidating on the significant progress made so far,”​ said FSA director of policy and science Michael Wight.

“We will continue to actively work with retailers and smaller poultry businesses to further reduce campylobacter levels.

“We would like to thank the major retailers and poultry producers for their efforts in tackling campylobacter and for working alongside the FSA to coordinate the publication of results.”

There is now less than a week to go to Food Manufacture’s​ Food Safety Conference, A focus on future law and threats, to be held at Etc Venues in Birmingham on 21 June. The event is sponsored by AIB International, Pal International and Westgate Factory Dividers.

Speakers include Andy Morling, head of food crime at the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) Food Crime Unit, Dawn Welham, president of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and Richard Barnes, retail technical director at ABP UK.

Topics covered will range from exclusive research based on an extensive industry food safety survey to the latest developments and thinking on blockchain technology. Speakers will also address how the regulatory landscape for food and drink could change post-Brexit and in the wake of the FSA’s Regulating Our Future programme.

For more information, and to book a ticket, click here​.

Related topics Food Safety Meat, poultry & seafood

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