There has been a further decrease in the number of shop-bought chickens in the United Kingdom with the highest level of contamination with the foodborne bacteria, Campylobacter, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Results of the Year 2 survey measuring Campylobacter in fresh, whole chickens at retail have been published by the FSA. The results – for the period October to December 2015 - show a continued reduction compared to the same sampling period of the previous year with 11 percent of samples with the higher level of contamination compared with 19 percent in 2014.

“Campylobacter is a complex and challenging bacteria and the British poultry meat sector is the first to recognize that the hard work needs to continue,” commented John Reed, chairman of the British Poultry Council (BPC.)“The trend is clear; significant industry investment and reduction strategies are working, with Campylobacter levels consistently reducing over time.”

The BPC has been working closely with regulators and retailers since 2009 to better understand and combat the presence of Campylobacter in chickens. This co-operative work is overseen by the Acting on Campylobacter Together (ACT) Board, with representatives from regulators, retailers, and processors.

“With the concerted effort shown by industry, retailers, and regulators, the long-term consistency of the FSA’s retail survey is proving a reliable indicator of progress,” said ACT Board Chairman Richard MacDonald.

More than 5,000 samples have been collected over a number of years, generating a crucial dataset demonstrating a downward trend.

“We also reiterate the important role that consumers have when it comes to kitchen hygiene and taking simple steps at home that will protect them from foodborne illnesses, regardless of their type or origin,” added MacDonald. “We welcome interventions that raise public awareness and give clear guidance on food safety in the home.”

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“These results are heading in the right direction and we must continue to build on this progress,” added Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at the FSA. “Retailers and processors must ensure the interventions that are working are embedded in industry practice. We have also arrived at a point where consumers expect access to data about Campylobacter, so the FSA must ensure its survey remains robust and work with industry to ensure as much sampling data as possible are available to the public.”

According to the FSA report, the most heavily contaminated birds, carrying more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g), are the focus of the current target agreed by industry, which is equivalent to no more than 7 percent of chickens at retail having the highest levels of contamination. Research has shown that reducing the proportion of birds in this category will have the biggest positive impact on public health.

The latest data show Campylobacter was present on 59 percent of chicken samples, down from 74 percent in the same months of the previous year.

A number of interventions - including improved biosecurity, SonoSteam (a combination of steam and ultrasound), and the trimming of chicken neck skins - introduced by some retailers to reduce levels of Campylobacter, may be helping to deliver the improved results.

The full report  is published on the FSA web site.

A month ago, a ban on thinning of broiler flocks was introduced under a leading farm assurance scheme in the U.K. because the practice has been linked to a higher level of colonization of the birds by Campylobacter.

In the United States, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA has recently announced the finalization of new federal standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products, as well as in raw chicken breasts, legs, and wings.