Last week’s “fame and shame” about the high percentage of Campylobacter-contaminated fresh chickens sold by retail stores in the United Kingdom is being followed by renewed discussions about interventions their poultry industry should try to reduce the U.K.’s most common cause of bacterial gastrointestinal disease.
Those discussions, say experts, could see the UK at least experiment with the kind of chemical baths commonly used in the United States but currently banned in the European Union. A 2013 study published by the journal Food Control found there are interventions consumers might embrace; however, chemical baths and irradiation are not among them.
A year’s worth of ramped-up survey research by the U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA) reached a climax last week when the agency disclosed the percentages of Campylobacter contamination in fresh chicken for each of the country’s major retail chains.
While not unexpected, the results were not pretty. According to FSA, the percentage of fresh (raw) chickens sold with Campylobacter contamination were: Asda, 78.9 percent; Morrisons, 76.2 percent; The Co-operative, 75.6 percent; Marks & Spencer, 72.2 percent; Waitrose, 71.7 percent; Sainsbury’s, 69.6 percent, and Tesco, 68. 2 percent.
FSA also had an “others” category that includes smaller retail chains such as Aldi, Lidl, and Iceland, along with independents, convenience stores and butchers. That group came in at 72.9 percent.
Overall, the results showed that 73 percent of all fresh chickens tested were positive for the presence of Campylobacter and 19 percent were in the highest range of contamination.
FSA tested more than 3,000 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens and packaging during the 12-month period. By May, when a full set of results are due to be published, the agency expects to test another 1,000 samples of whole chicken purchased from U.K. retail outlets.
No similar government project — providing contamination levels for specific retailers — exists in the U.S. However, past studies by consumer groups and newspapers have found that more than half of the raw chicken sold in stores in this country are contaminated with Campylobacter.
In the U.S., birds are typically dunked in a chilling bath immediately after slaughter to quickly bring down their temperatures. Antimicrobial chemicals such as chlorine, heavily diluted in water, are used as a “kill step” for pathogens such as Campylobacter and Salmonella.
But the consumer acceptability study by researchers from the University of Aberdeen and the University of St. Andrews found chemical washes were not popular even with U.K. consumers who had some understanding of Campylobacter. Vaccinations, feeding alternatives, freezing, steaming and better hygiene methods all had more acceptability.
Campylobacteriosis is the gastrointestinal disease caused by a type of bacteria called Campylobacter. Raw or undercooked chicken is often the source of the infection.
After exposure to the pathogen, the illness usually occurs in two to five days and lasts about a week. Many who are exposed do not develop any symptoms, but when they do, they include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Most people fully recover, but for a small percentage of people, joint pain and swelling may occur after infection. In addition, a rare disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome that causes weakness and paralysis can follow several weeks after the initial illness.
Antibiotic resistance to some strains of Campylobacter and Salmonella is adding to concerns about the raw chicken contamination.© Food Safety News