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British retailers to self-report chicken Campylobacter results

England’s top nine retail grocers are going to begin publishing results of the Campylobacter retail survey of fresh shop-bought chickens produced in the United Kingdom on their store websites.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the change follows discussions involving the industry and the agency. The retailers will sample and analyze fresh chicken for Campylobacter under “robust protocols established by FSA.”

The plan also ensures the published results will be comparable. In addition, the FSA will have access to the raw data from each retailer to verify the samples and to determine industry averages. The agency has made it clear it reserves the right to comment publically on the results.

Each retailer has committed in writing to follow the protocols. As a consequence of this arrangement, the nine major retailers won’t be in the FSA annual survey. Rather, consumers will be able to track the retailers’ ongoing commitment to Campylobacter reduction.

In light of the significant progress made by the major retailers and producers in taking action to reduce Campylobacter levels in their chicken, FSA’s strategy is now to focus efforts

on improvements in smaller establishments.

FSA’s retail survey of fresh chickens is in its fourth year. Small retailers, independent traders, and market stalls — all more likely to be supplied by smaller processors — are its new targets.

The agency says it will move to “encouraging and working with smaller processors.” It says the small operations usually have not made the same level of improvements to their processing lines as the bigger ones. Although these plants account for a smaller share of the market, many supply products to catering operations and local retailers.

FSA promises it remains “committed to reducing the levels of Campylobacter on all UK produced chickens, and we will be monitoring the larger retailers’ results” to ensure they continue to show action is being taken to control and reduce Campylobacter.

Reducing Campylobacter is FSA’s “number one priority.” Its goal is to cut the number of human cases of Campylobacter poisoning by 100,000 a year, beginning with the benchmark of March 2017.

The Campylobacter bacterium, most commonly C. jejuni, causes a common bacterial infection. The foodborne illness in humans produces an inflammatory, sometimes bloody, diarrhea or dysentery syndrome along with cramps, fever and pain.

In March 2016, the FSA survey found 11 percent of the chickens tested were positive for Campylobacter, down from 19 percent two years earlier. In announcing those survey results, FSA noted the progress, but said “Campylobacter prevalence remains too high.”

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