The British Food Standards Agency on Wednesday published the latest results from its survey of campylobacter on fresh, shop-bought, United Kingdom-produced chickens, reporting a drop of almost 10 percent compared to 2016.
Across the market, 6.5 percent of chickens tested were positive for the highest level of contamination, carrying more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram (cfu/g). That is down from 9.3 percent for the same period this past year.
This is the second set of results from the third annual retail survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The results are based on tests of 1,051 whole fresh chickens sampled from January to March.
The latest data from the survey also showed that:
- The figure for high-level campylobacter prevalence (>1000cfu/g) among the nine named retailers was 5 percent, compared to 7.8 percent in 2016.
- The retailers that had significantly lower levels compared to the average among all retailers were M&S, Morrisons and Waitrose, at 2.5 percent, 2.8 percent and 2.7 percent respectively
- The group consisting of a number of smaller retailers and butchers described as “others,” had a significantly higher level of contaminated chickens with 16.9 percent of those tested returning positive results.
- Of chicken skin samples tested for campylobacter at any level, 48.8 percent were positive for the pathogen, compared to 50 percent which tested positive in the same period last year.
“It is good to see that levels continue to go down as this indicates that the major retailers and processors are getting to grips with campylobacter,” said FSA Chairman Heather Hancock. “These results give us a clear picture of the positive direction in which we are heading, and help us measure the impact of interventions that are being used to reduce contamination. While results are reassuring, we want to see more progress among the smaller businesses, to achieve real and lasting reductions.
“In the meantime, I am delighted to see the commitment and responsibility that the industry has shown, so far, in their efforts to provide consumers with food they can trust. They have invested a lot of effort and money into interventions to tackle the problem and it is showing clear results.”
The consumer group known as “Which?” likes the progress being made, but noted that in many cases half of UK-produced chickens are still contaminated.
“It is encouraging to see that the overall levels of campylobacter in chickens are falling and that major retailers are meeting the FSA’s target, said Alex Neill, managing director of home products and services for Which? “However, there is no room for complacency as the survey shows that levels can vary greatly depending on where consumers shop and in many cases over half of chickens are still contaminated.”
The results for the first five months of the third retail survey, published in March 2017, showed that 7 percent of chickens tested were positive for the highest level of contamination, down from 12 percent for the same period in 2015 and 20 percent in 2014. This improvement in the highest levels of contamination is mirrored by the decrease in the number of human cases — an estimated 100,000 fewer cases of Campylobacter infection in 2016.
The results meet the goals agreed to by the FSA Board to reduce the number of people getting ill from food poisoning. The reduction was estimated to lead to a direct saving to the economy of over £13 million in terms of fewer days off work and National Health Service costs.
The FSA has been testing chickens for campylobacter since February 2014 and publishing the results as part of its campaign to bring together the whole food chain to tackle the problem. Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK.
All results in the following table are taken from the official statistics report for the survey. This report gives a full explanation of the results and background to the methodology.
The FSA advises that the data for individual retailers have to be interpreted carefully. Confidence intervals are given for each retailer and the “others” category. These show the likely range of the results allowing for the number of samples taken. The 95 percent confidence interval means the FSA would expect the true prevalence to fall within the lower and upper confidence limits 95 percent of the time.
The 95 percent confidence intervals are shown in parentheses in the table. They reflect the uncertainty in the estimate and provide a range of values within which the true prevalence will lie 95 percent of the time, according to the report.
The overall prevalence of Campylobacter on chickens sampled, by retailer: January – March 2017
|% of skin samples
positive for Campylobacter
|% of skin samples
over 1000 cfu/g Campylobacter
|Aldi||110||51.8 (42.1 – 61.4)||5.5 (2.0 – 11.5)|
|Asda||109||56.0 (46.1 – 65.5)||7.3 (3.2 – 14.0)|
|Co-op||94||63.8 (53.3 – 73.5)||4.3 (1.2 – 10.5)|
|Lidl||109||57.8 (48.0 – 67.2)||9.2 (4.5 – 16.2)|
|M&S||119||56.3 (46.9 – 65.4)||2.5 (0.5 – 7.2)|
|Morrisons||109||39.4 (30.2 – 49.3)||2.8 (0.6 – 7.8)|
|Sainsbury’s||104||50.0 (40.0 – 60.0)||7.7 (3.4 – 14.6)|
|Tesco||104||41.3 (31.8 – 51.4)||3.8 (1.1 – 9.6)|
|Waitrose||110||28.2 (20.0 – 37.6)||2.7 (0.6 – 7.8)|
|Others||83||59.0 (47.7 – 69.7)||16.9 (9.5 – 26.7)|
|All||1051||48.8 (45.3 – 52.4)||6.5 (4.8 – 8.3)|
Chicken is safe as long as consumers follow good kitchen practice:
- Cover and chill raw chicken — Cover raw chicken and store at the bottom of the refrigerator so juices cannot drip on to other foods and contaminate them with food poisoning bacteria such as Campylobacter.
- Don’t wash raw chicken — Cooking to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F will kill any bacteria present, including Campylobacter, while washing chicken can spread bacteria via splashing water.
- Wash used utensils — Thoroughly wash and clean all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water after handling raw chicken. This helps stop the spread of Campylobacter by avoiding cross contamination.
- Cook chicken thoroughly — Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through by using a food thermometer to verify the internal temperature at the thickest part is 165 degrees F.
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