The poultry industry, major retailers, and the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom are mounting an attack on Campylobacter in chickens, making it their top food safety priority.

Almost two thirds of the raw chickens sold in the UK are contaminated with Campylobacter, which causes an estimated 300,000 illnesses and 80 deaths a year.

If the industry, retail, and agency plan is successful, it could mean reducing Campylobacter food poisoning by up to 30 percent for 90,000 fewer cases a year.


Dr. Alison Gleadle, the Food Standards Agency director of food hygiene said the target is challenging but achievable, adding “We are working closely with the food industry to make chicken as safe to eat as possible.”

The UK has three categories of poultry house contamination, and currently 27 percent of its chickens fall into the highest category.  The new target is to cut that number to 10 percent.

Improved levels of hygiene or biosecurity on UK farms have  already been successful in beating Salmonella in chickens, but it has proved not enough against Campylobacter, noted the British Poultry Council’s Peter Bradnock.  

Options being considered to reduce Campylobacter levels in the slaughterhouse include better hygiene measures on farms, hot water treatment or steaming chicken carcasses, the use of electrolyzed water, and anti-microbial washes such as lactic acid. Such washes would require approval from Europe.

Another option might be for pre-packed chicken on retail sale to be packed in ‘modified atmosphere packaging’, which raises the levels of oxygen inside packs to slow the rate at which bugs multiply.  Better leak-proof packaging could also help prevent the spread of the bacteria to other foods or surfaces in the kitchen.

Consumers can play a part in tackling Campylobacter by avoiding cross contamination from utensils that have been in contact with fresh chicken meat, not washing poultry before it is cooked to avoid spreading germs, and by cooking chicken meat thoroughly, the agency noted.