The U.K.’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published the cumulative results from the first two quarters of its year-long survey of Campylobacter on fresh chickens.
Individual results by major retailers have also been published.
The results to date show that 18 percent of chickens tested positive for Campylobacter above the highest level of contamination (above 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g)), 70 percent of chickens tested positive for the presence of Campylobacter, while 6 percent of packaging tested positive for the presence of Campylobacter with only one sample at the highest level of contamination.
In total, 1,195 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens have now been tested, with packaging also tested for most of these samples. Data show variations between retailers, but none are meeting the end-of-production target for reducing Campylobacter, the FSA says.
The overall figures show an increase in contamination from the first quarter to the second quarter. This is most likely due to the second quarter’s samples being taken during the summer months when an increase in Campylobacter is often seen because of the warmer weather.
Steve Wearne, FSA director of policy, said: “These results show that the food industry, especially retailers, needs to do more to reduce the amount of Campylobacter on fresh chickens. Although we are only half-way through the survey, 18 percent of birds tested had Campylobacter over 1,000 cfu/g, the highest level of contamination, and more than 70 percent of birds had some Campylobacter on them. This shows there is a long way to go.
“There are signs that some retailers are starting to step up to their responsibilities. When more do, we will see the sustained improvement that will help prevent many customers getting ill. “
The 12-month survey, which started in February this year and will run until February 2015, will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from U.K. retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers. The FSA notes that recent interventions to reduce the levels of Campylobacter will not be reflected in the survey results at this stage, however, on-going sampling will allow the FSA and the food industry to see what impact they have had.
The FSA notes a number of industry and retailer efforts to tackle Campylobacter. These include:
- Marks & Spencer and its supplier, 2 Sisters Food Group, have recently developed a five point plan, an integrated program of interventions along the food chain to reduce levels of Campylobacter;
- Asda, and its supplier Faccenda, have committed to an innovative new steam technology that has shown promising results in tests and is now being installed at the Faccenda factory for full scale, in line trials;
- Moy Park’s development of on-farm biosecurity, which has found cost effective ways of exceeding Red Tractor Standards; and
- A number of retailers have introduced ‘roast in the bag’ chicken which helps to limit cross-contamination by minimizing handling of raw chicken in the home.
Best and worst retailers
The FSA advises that the data for individual retailers have to be interpreted carefully, however it notes that the results to date show that Tesco is the only major retailer which has a lower incidence of chicken contaminated with Campylobacter at the highest level compared to the industry average.
Asda is the only major retailer which has a higher incidence of chicken that is contaminated by Campylobacter at the highest level, compared with the industry average.
However, the results suggest that none of the retailers is achieving the joint industry end-of-production target for reducing Campylobacter.
The British Poultry Council says that the data shows that all producers and retailers have levels in the same range. The difference between upper and lower in the overall level of Campylobacter in flocks is not statistically significant when examined against confidence intervals.
Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security who led the government’s review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks, said: “Campylobacter is a complex problem to get to grips with, not only in the UK but worldwide. The Food Standards Agency have very correctly identified this as an important issue for them and the UK food industry to work on in a collaborative manner. I’m not aware of any region in the world working harder to find solution to this problem but in my opinion.
“Having looked at all the evidence, this is no ‘quick fix.’ Improved interventions at farm level, food processing and packaging, food service and at retail will all be required to really get to grips with significantly reducing the level of contamination and reducing associated human illness.”