The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK has published the cumulative results from the first two quarters of its year-long survey of campylobacter on fresh chickens, revealing prevalence in 70% of chicken.
Tackling campylobacter is the FSA's number one food safety priority and it is spearheading a campaign to bring together the whole food chain to tackle the problem.
The results to date show:
- 18% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter above the highest level of contamination*
- 70% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter
- 6% of packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter with only one sample at the highest level of contamination (>1,000 cfu/g)
* Above 1,000 colony forming units per gram (>1,000 cfu/g). These units indicate the degree of contamination on each sample.
In total, 1,995 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens have now been tested, with packaging also tested for most of these samples. Data show variations between retailers but none are meeting the end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.
Increase in contamination
The overall figures show an increase in contamination from the first quarter to the second quarter. This is most likely due to the second quarter's samples being taken during the summer months when an increase in campylobacter is often seen because of the warmer weather.
This 12-month survey, running from February 2014 to February 2015, will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.
Steve Wearne, FSA director of policy, said: "These results show that the food industry, especially retailers, need to do more to reduce the amount of campylobacter on fresh chickens. Although we are only half-way through the survey, 18% of birds tested had campylobacter over 1,000 cfu/g, the highest level of contamination, and more than 70% of birds had some campylobacter on them. This shows there is a long way to go before consumers are protected from this bug."
"There are signs that some retailers are starting to step up to their responsibilities. When more do, we will see the sustained improvements that will help prevent many of their customers getting ill."
Efforts to tackle campylobacter
There have been some recent developments in industry and retailer efforts to tackle campylobacter. Marks & Spencer and its supplier, 2 Sisters Food Group, have recently developed a five-point plan, an integrated programme of interventions along the food chain to reduce levels of campylobacter.
Asda and its supplier, Faccenda, have committed to an innovative new steam technology (SonoSteam) that has shown promising results in tests and is now being installed at the Faccenda factory for full scale, in line trials. Moy Park's development of on-farm biosecurity, which has found cost effective ways of exceeding Red Tractor standards.
In addition a number of retailers have introduced 'roast in the bag' chickens which help limit cross-contamination by minimising the handling of the raw chicken in the home.