Major British retailer Marks & Spencer has introduced a plan to take on the poultry industry’s longstanding problems with illnesses related to Campylobacter, a foodborne bacterium that causes diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever. In August, the U.K. Food Standards Agency reported that it found Campylobacter on 59 percent of fresh, whole store-bought chicken. Campylobacter is the most common form of food poisoning in the U.K., sickening roughly 280,000 people each year, and 80 percent of those cases come from poultry. Marks & Spencer’s plan consists of five strategies that together aim to significantly reduce illnesses from poultry in the U.K. The company says the plan consists of the following:
- Zero thinning: Farmers that supply chicken to Marks & Spencer will no longer harvest chickens from flocks throughout the growing cycle for parts. Abstaining from culling any members of the flock is known as “zero thinning,” and is said to reduce stress levels and the amount of bacteria shed by the chickens.
- Rapid surface chilling: Whole chicken carcasses will be rapidly chilled as they’re processed in order to reduce bacterial loads.
- Front of pack labeling: A large label on the front of the chicken will read “Washed and Ready to Cook” to inform consumers that they do not need to wash the chicken. Washing chicken can spread bacteria and increase the chance of contamination.
- Double-bagging: The company now wraps 85 percent of whole chickens in a double bag system that allows customers to place the chicken directly in the oven with a bag to reduce the risk of coming into contact with bacteria.
- Farmer bonus scheme: Marks & Spencer will offer payment bonuses to farmers who produce chickens in Campylobacter-free farms.
“We take safety extremely seriously and have introduced innovative measures that ensure the highest standards and make it easy for our customers,” said Steve Rowe, executive director of food at Marks & Spencer in a press statement. “The plan is working and we are committed to playing a leading role in the efforts to reduce levels of Campylobacter in the poultry industry.” The company says it began implementing the Campylobacter challenge in September and plans to have it established company-wide before the end of 2014.