The British poultry industry has found one way to put a stop to all that testing for campylobacter at the retail level in the United Kingdom. They’ve yanked the necks off the birds before they make it to retail counters. That’s a problem for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom, which has been doing its campylobacter testing by taking samples from the neck skin of chickens because that area is generally the most contaminated part of the bird. rawchicken_406x250In measuring the “amount of bugs on the neck skin,” FSA this past quarter found 11 percent of chickens tested as positive for campylobacter contamination. That was an improvement from the final quarter of 2014, when 19 percent of the samples tested were positive for campylobacter. The chickens subjected to testing are purchased at retail from shops and supermarkets. In the United States, poultry samples are not collected at the retail level for pathogen testing by the government. Poultry in the U.S. is tested before being distributed to retailers, with campylobacter positives found at least as often as in the U.K. The goal of the FSA testing program in the U.K. is to reduce the number of human cases of campylobacter poisoning by 100,000 a year. But, now that industry is removing necks from chickens, FSA’s testing program is being suspended. “Tracking campylobacter remains our number one priority,” FSA’s Policy Director Steve Wearne said in a statement. “The ultimate test to show whether our campaign is working is to see whether fewer people get it (campylobacter). That’s why we want to see 100,000 fewer cases of campylobacter each year from the end of March 2017. So, there is no let up for industry: we want to see continuing efforts to reduce this bug in our chickens.” In the suspension announcement, the FSA said it wouldn’t restart the campylobacter testing program until it can come up with a method that will again provide “clear information on the progress being made by retailers to tackle campylobacter.” The agency tried to put the shutdown in the most positive light. “This is good news for the consumer, because it (removing the neck) reduces the amount of campylobacter on the bird, but it gives us a problem our our analysis.” FSA is studying other options for a new testing protocol. The agency hopes it can restart sampling and testing retail poultry before summer is over. The final data set collected before the suspension will be published on May 26, but it will not break down the figures by retail chains. “We remain committed to the publication of our survey results, including retailer data, which are both useful to people but also encourage retailers to ensure the chickens they put on sale have as few campylobacter on them as possible,” FSA said the announcement. As for the danger the pathogen poises to human health, FSA has come up with a snappy statement about the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. It says: “You can’t see it, smell it or taste of, but if it affects you, you won’t forget it.” (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)