The group’s Home Services md Alex Neill said: “It is encouraging to see that overall levels of campylobacter in chickens are falling and that major retailers are meeting the FSA’s [Food Standards Agency’s] target.”
But there was still room for significant improvement, he warned. “There is no room for complacency, as the survey shows that over half of chickens are contaminated and that this can vary greatly depending on where consumers shop,” he said.
The latest survey results from UK surveillance bodies, collated by the FSA, revealed a 17% fall in the number of laboratory reports of human cases of campylobacteriosis last year.
Overall, 7% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter, within the highest band of contamination, according to the results of the retail survey covering the period from August to December 2016.
5% of chickens tested positive
Among the nine retailers with the highest market share, 5% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination. That compared with 12% for the same period in 2015 and 20% in 2014.
Reducing the proportion of birds in the highest category of contamination would have the biggest positive impact on public health, said the FSA.
The value of the reduction in campylobacter infection – aside from averting human suffering – was an estimated direct saving to the economy of more than £13M in terms of fewer days off work and lower costs to the National Health Service.
More than £13M
FSA chairman Heather Hancock said the report revealed a landmark achievement. “The challenge we set of reducing the number of people who get ill from campylobacter has been achieved.
“In the absence of any other clear indicators, we can reasonably say that the work that we and the food industry have done from farm to fork has given us this really positive result for public health.”
Hancock praised the contribution of large-scale food manufacturers and retailers that had contributed to the improved results.
“We commend the efforts of the larger retailers and the major processing plants who supply them, all of which have shown significant improvement and many have achieved the target we set to reduce the highest levels of campylobacter. They have invested a lot of effort and money into interventions to tackle the problem.”
But more remained to achieved, she added. “Our focus now is on encouraging the smaller retailers and processors, who generally haven’t met target levels, to follow the lead of the major players and we are considering how we can best help them and monitor their progress.”