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UK Stores Pressured to Reduce Campylobacter on Fresh Whole Chicken

The Consumers’ Association in the United Kingdom, which goes by the brand name Which?, is following up on the recent release of fresh whole chicken Campylobacter contamination rates by supermarket chain by asking chief executives what they are going to do about it.

As promised, at the end of a year-long study, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) about six weeks ago released data by retail store chain. FSA found high levels of Campylobacter contamination in a fairly narrow range for fresh whole chickens from seven of the country’s major supermarket chains.

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Asda’s samples tested highest for levels of Campylobacter (78 percent), followed by The Co-operative Food (73 percent), Morrisons (69 percent), Waitrose (69 percent), Sainsbury’s (69 percent), Marks & Spencer (67 percent) and Tesco (64 percent).

In total, FSA tested 1,995 samples, about 70 from each chain’s markets.

Richard Lloyd, executive director for Which?, recently wrote the supermarket chains’ executive officers to encourage them to take swift corrective actions.

“Consumers need reassurance that supermarkets are taking this seriously and doing all they can to address the problem,” he wrote.

“While we welcome the progress made so far, we urge you to take a more visible and coordinated industry wide approach so that consumers can be confident that everything possible is being done to tackle this potentially fatal bug, “ he wrote. “We have previously been in touch with your teams and are calling for every major supermarket to publish a plan of action by the end of January and to make this publicly available and published on your website, with a timeframe for taking action.”

Which? is also close to a goal of 30,000 petition signatures on the subject, which was first disclosed midway though 2014 when FSA released its initial data without identifying the names of the supermarket chains. At that time, one British retailer did release a plan it hoped would reduce Campylobacter contamination in chicken.

That plan came from Marks & Spencer and involved five strategies, including zero thinning, rapid surface chilling, front-of-package labeling, double bagging and farmer bonuses for producing Campylobacter-free poultry.

Campylobacter is among the UK’s most common forms of food poisoning, sickening about 280,000 people a year, with 80 percent of those illnesses stemming from contaminated chicken. The high rates of raw chicken contamination found in the UK are similar to some studies that have been conducted in the United States.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who become ill from Campylobacter get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism. The diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The illness typically lasts about one week. Some infected persons do not have any symptoms. In persons with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection.

Which? says chicken is safe if it is handled and cooked correctly. Here are the organization’s tips to protect yourself from food poisoning at home:

Packaging

Make sure chicken is properly wrapped and in leak-proof packaging so that meat and juices don’t come into contact with any other foods or work surfaces, and wash your hands after handling.

Refrigeration

Refrigerate raw chicken at or below 5 degrees C (41 degrees F). Bacteria multiply faster at room temperature. Listeria can also multiply at refrigeration temperatures, so it’s important to stick to the use-by date.

Washing

Don’t wash raw chicken since you could splash any bacteria present onto the sink, worktops, or nearby dishes, increasing cross-contamination.

Storage

Store raw meat in a sealed container at the bottom of your fridge. Keep it separate from ready-to-eat foods such as ham and salad. Since these don’t need cooking, any bacteria transferred to them won’t be killed.

Preparation

Use different chopping boards and knives for preparing raw meat than for preparing other foods, and wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling.

Cooking

It’s vital you cook chicken thoroughly — the inside must be piping hot with no pink bits, and juices must run clear. Cooking at temperatures above 70 degrees C (165 degrees F) will kill bacteria.

© Food Safety News