Almost 4 percent of fresh whole chickens produced in the United Kingdom showed Campylobacter contamination above maximum tested levels, according to the latest results.

Testing from the top nine retailers in the UK on samples from April to June 2018 found 3.7 percent of chickens were carrying more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g) of Campylobacter.

This compares to 3.8 percent in the previous set of results from January to March and 4.6 percent for July to September last year. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) target is less than 7 percent of birds in the more than 1,000 cfu/g category.

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK with an estimated 280,000 cases annually. The infectious level can be as low as a few hundred cells.

The most recent results found 12.5 percent had a Campylobacter level between 100 to 1,000 cfu/g compared to 13.2 percent from January to March.

Almost a quarter, 23.3 percent, had contamination levels of 10 to 99 cfu/g, which was down from 23.9 percent in results from January to March.

More than six in 10 chickens tested positive at the lowest level of contamination which was up from the 59.1 percent which had less than 10 cfu/g in results from January to March.

Michael Wight, director of policy at the Food Standards Agency, thanked major retailers, processors and poultry producers for their efforts in tackling the pathogen.

“These latest figures are consistent with previous results and show consolidation on the progress made so far in our mission to reduce Campylobacter levels to as low as reasonably achievable. Evidence has shown that Campylobacter tends to be more prevalent during warmer times of the year; so, to have seen the results holding steady during this period is encouraging,” he said.

Aldi reported 4.5 percent of birds were in the highest 1,000 cfu/g category for Q2 2018 (April to June), Asda had 7.4 percent in this range, Waitrose had 4 percent of chickens positive, Sainsbury’s recorded just below 4 percent and the figure for Lidl was 0.5 percent but none of these retailers revealed how many samples were tested.

Co-op results for the second quarter of 2018 show none of its chickens had contamination at levels greater than 1,000 cfu/g. Morrisons also had none of its chickens in this bracket from a sample of 130 chickens.

Marks & Spencer recorded 5 percent in the highest category in April. It reported 10 percent in May and 8 percent in June based on 334 samples. Tesco data shows 5 percent of 616 samples higher than 1,000 cfu/g.

The FSA has been testing chickens for Campylobacter since February 2014 and publishing results in an effort to bring together entities in the food chain to tackle the problem.

In September 2017, changes to the survey meant major retailers carried out their own sampling and published results under protocols set by the FSA. The agency is continuing to sample fresh whole chickens sold at retail with a focus on the smaller retailers and independent market.

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