Poultry firms’ campylobactor investment ‘pays off’

Campylobacter contamination in chicken has been reduced to 6.5% in the highest bracket of contamination; down from 9.3%

Poultry processors’ and retailers’ investments in curbing campylobacter were paying off, said the Food Standards Agency (FSA), after its latest retail survey revealed the highest band of contamination in fresh chicken had fallen to 6.5%.

The number of chickens in the highest contamination bracket (more than 1,000 colony forming units a gram) was reduced from 9.3%, the FSA revealed today (June 14) in the second set of results from its third annual survey. The survey tested 1,051 whole fresh chickens between January and March 2017.

Total chicken skin samples that tested positive for campylobacter contamination fell 1.2% to 50%.

FSA chairman Heather Hancock said: “It is good to see that levels continue to go down as this indicates that the major retailers and processors are getting to grips with campylobacter. These results give us a clear picture of the positive direction in which we are heading, and help us measure the impact of interventions that are being used to reduce contamination.

‘Achieve real and lasting reductions’

“While results are reassuring, we want to see more progress among the smaller businesses, to achieve real and lasting reductions.”

The survey also revealed that Marks & Spencer had the lowest prevalence of campylobacter contamination of the UK’s largest nine retailers. Discounter Lidl had the highest contamination prevalence of the highest bracket, at 9.2%.

Almost 17% of chicken skin samples in smaller retailers and butchers were contaminated with campylobacter in the highest band.

Following the survey results, Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said cutting the levels of campylobacter infection remained its priority. Between 55% and 75% of human campylobacter infections were linked to chicken, it said.

‘Important public health measure’

FSS head of food protection science and surveillance Jacqui McElhiney said: “Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in Scotland, and reducing the levels of contamination in chicken is an important public health measure.

“The number of laboratory reports of human cases of campylobacter in Scotland [fell 15.5%] in 2016, compared to 2015. Whilst it is still too early to establish the extent to which we can attribute this decrease to the improvements shown by FSA’s survey results, the trends look encouraging.”

Meanwhile, reducing food poisoning at home will be highlighted at this year’s Food Manufacture food safety conference. Active and Intelligent Packaging Association’s Andrew Manly will discuss the role smart packaging can play in reducing infections.

What Which? said about the falling campylobacter rate

“It is encouraging to see that overall levels of campylobacter in chickens are falling and that major retailers are meeting the FSA’s target.

 “However, there is no room for complacency as the survey shows that levels can vary greatly depending on where consumers shop and in many cases over half of chickens are still contaminated.”

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