The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said that 59% of birds tested positive for Campylobacter in the first set of quarterly results on fresh shop-bought chickens.
The agency added that in 4% of samples Campylobacter was identified on the outside of the packaging.
The survey, running from February 2014 for 12 months, is looking at the prevalence and levels of contamination on fresh whole chilled chickens and their packaging.
It will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers, with the first results representing 853 samples.
Picture of prevalence
Catherine Brown, FSA chief executive, said the survey forms part of the work the agency is doing to tackle the problem.
“It will give us a clearer picture of the prevalence of Campylobacter on raw poultry sold at retail and help us measure the impact of interventions introduced by producers, processers, and retailers to reduce contamination,” she said.
“The chicken supply chain is looking at how interventions such as improved biosecurity on farms, rapid surface chilling, and anti-microbial washes can help reduce Campylobacter.
“So when they take action and invest in interventions designed to make a difference, these survey figures will enable us to see if they really do make an impact.
BPC: A slight reduction
The British Poultry Council said the average figure of 59% of whole birds with Campylobacter is a slight reduction on previous surveys.
“Campylobacter reduction is our top priority. The poultry industry has been working closely with the FSA on developing techniques and technologies that will reduce the prevalence. We are confident that a number of emerging technologies will help us take significant steps forward in the near future.
“These figures confirm the difficulties that we are facing. We support the FSA’s efforts to reinforce good kitchen hygiene practice, and to raise awareness of the issue and the progress we are making.”
2 Sisters Food Group and Faccenda, two of its members, were recently involved in an investigation by the Guardian highlighting hygiene concerns.
Campylobacter is killed by thorough cooking but it is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 people a year.
Previous studies carried out into its prevalence have shown around two thirds of raw poultry carries Campylobacter.
Levels on packaging
Brown said the low levels of contamination found on packaging, potentially indicate the effectiveness of the leak-proof packaging introduced by most retailers.
“There is still a lot more to be done by all elements of the supply chain to ensure that consumers can be confident in the food they buy,” she said.
“As soon as we have enough data to robustly compare campylobacter levels in different retailers we will share that data with consumers.”
FSA voted not to ‘name and shame’ supermarkets selling chicken contaminated with Campylobacter last month.
At its board meeting, members were told the plan should be reversed because of risks to do with misinterpretation or presentation of incomplete data.
The plan was that FSA would release results, including names of retailers and processors, of testing of around 1,000 samples every three months, with the first results published around June/July.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director,said: “The FSA’s survey reveals unacceptably high levels of Campylobacter and they must now publish the names of the retailers so consumers are aware of the best and worst performing shops.
“Campylobacter is responsible for thousands of cases of food poisoning and the deaths of 100 people every year so much more must be done to minimise the risk of contamination at every stage of production.”