Both the number of raw chickens sold at retail showing campylobacter contamination and the number with the highest level of contamination are showing improvement, according to Food Standards Scotland (FSS). Campylobacter remains the most common cause of food borne illness in throughout the United Kingdom, and FSS research has shown that a significant proportion of Scottish campylobacter cases are associated with a chicken source. Scotland’s food safety agency is working in partnership with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on the UK strategy rawchicken_406x250to reduce campylobacter in chicken. The latest set of results have been published from FSA’s survey of campylobacter in fresh chicken sold at retail, and in the packaging. The results from 1,009 fresh whole chilled UK-produced chickens and packaging sampled during January-March 2016 continue to show a decrease both in the number of birds with campylobacter, and those with the highest level of contamination. The latest data for the three month period between January-March 2016 shows:

  • campylobacter was present on 50 percent of chicken samples, down from 71 percent in the three months from December 2014-February 2015.
  • 9.3 percent of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination in this quarter, which is down from 21.8 percent for the three months from December 2014-February 2015.

The agency says the results are very encouraging, and one of the reasons the survey results are lower for this quarter is the action recently taken by retailers and their suppliers to remove neck skin from the bird before it goes on sale. Neck skin is the most heavily contaminated part of the chicken, so its removal is a positive step for reducing the risks to consumers. However, as the survey design has been based on the testing of neck skins, its removal means that detailed comparisons with previous results are not possible. For this reason, the most recent results have been presented as an overall figure for the amount of campylobacter on chicken sampled across the UK, in contrast with previous results which provided a breakdown of figures by retailer. It should also be noted that this survey has now stopped, and a new survey will begin in the summer with a different method for testing campylobacter levels on chicken. The results from this new survey, which will rank the results obtained for each of the retailers, will come out in January 2017. “FSS is committed to on-going research to improve our understanding of the most important causes of campylobacter in humans in the Scottish population, and I welcome the improvement in these latest results,” said Elspeth MacDonald, FSS’s chief deputy executive.  “Improving the health of consumers in Scotland is a key priority for FSS and we look forward to on-going collaboration with the FSA and industry, to continue moving in a positive direction.” FSS continues to advise consumers in Scotland that chicken is safe to eat as long as good kitchen practice is followed to help avoid cross-contamination, and chicken is cooked thoroughly. No data was available for March 2015.   (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)