The percentage of fresh whole chickens produced in the United Kingdom positive for the highest level of Campylobacter contamination has declined compared to earlier this year.

For the top nine retailers, 3.5 percent of chickens samples tested from July to September this year carried more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g) of Campylobacter.

The figure for the previous results from April to June 2018 was 3.7 percent, while for July to September 2017, it was 4.6 percent. The expected seasonal pattern is increased contamination in the summer and reduced levels in winter and spring months.

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 dose can be as low as a few hundred cells.

The July to September 2018 results showed 11 percent of birds were positive in the 100-1,000 cfu/g category compared to 12.5 percent from April to June this year and 18.4 percent from July to September 2017.

The cfu/g 10-99 category was the only one to increase with 26.7 percent of chickens positive for the pathogen compared to 23.3 percent in April to June. However, the figure is still lower than the 28.3 percent positive from the same time last year.

In the lowest category, cfu/g less than 10, 58.8 percent of chickens were positive compared to 60.6 percent in the April to June results and 48.7 percent for the corresponding period in 2017.

Michael Wight, director of policy at the FSA, said the major retailers and poultry producers are continuing to tackle the problem.

“The latest figures show further progress being made in our efforts to reduce Campylobacter in UK-produced fresh whole chickens. We will continue to build on these encouraging results, working closely with retailers and smaller poultry businesses to bring levels down to as low as reasonably achievable.”

Aldi reported 5 percent of birds in the more than 1,000 cfu/g category in the latest results, compared to 4.5 percent from April to June. Asda had 7.1 percent in this category which was lower than the 7.4 percent figure of previous results. Lidl recorded 3 percent which was up from the previous 0.5 percent figure.

Co-op results for The third quarter of 2018 show 2 percent of chickens sampled had contamination at levels greater than 1,000 cfu/g, up from zero in the second quarter of this year. Morrisons was the only supermarket to report, for the third successive quarter, that none of its birds tested positive at the highest range from a sample of 129 chickens. Waitrose had 3 percent test positive for Campylobacter at 1000 cfu/g or more compared to 4 percent in the previous results.

Two percent of Sainsbury’s chicken samples were at the highest level compared to just below 4 percent in the April to June results. Tesco data shows the same level of contamination at 5 percent of samples higher than 1,000 cfu/g but figures from this quarter were based on 491 samples compared to 616 tests from April to June.

Marks & Spencer recorded 5 percent in the highest category in July. It reported 4 percent in August and 5 percent in September based on 317 samples compared to 5 percent in April,  10 percent in May and 8 percent in June based on 334 samples.

FSA advice to consumers includes cutting into the thickest part of the meat and checking it is steaming hot with no pink meat and the juices running clear, not to wash raw chicken but do wash and clean utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken and wash hands with soap and warm water after handling raw chicken.

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