UK – Survey shows further reduction in levels of campylobacter in chicken



The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has today published the latest results from its survey of campylobacter on fresh shop-bought UK-produced chickens. The figures show that on average, across the market, 6.5% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination, carrying more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g). This is down from 9.3%, for the same period last year.

This is the second set of results from our third annual retail survey, based on tests of 1,051 whole fresh chickens sampled during January to March 2017.

The latest data from the survey also found that:

  • the figure for high-level campylobacter prevalence (>1000cfu/g) among the nine named retailers was 5% (compared to 7.8% in January to March 2016).
  • the retailers which had significantly lower levels compared to the average among all retailers were M&S, Morrisons and Waitrose at 2.5%, 2.8% and 2.7% respectively
  • the group consisting of a number of smaller retailers and butchers (‘Others’), had a significantly higher level (16.9%) compared to the market average
  • 48.8% of chicken skin samples tested positive for campylobacter at any level, compared to 50% which tested positive in the same period last year.

Heather Hancock, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency 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. While results are reassuring, we want to see more progress among the smaller businesses, to achieve real and lasting reductions.

‘In the meantime, I am delighted to see the commitment and responsibility that the industry has shown, so far, in their efforts to provide consumers with food they can trust. They have invested a lot of effort and money into interventions to tackle the problem and it is showing clear results.’

The results for the first five months of our third retail survey (published in March 2017) showed that 7% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination, down from 12% for the same period in 2015 and 20% in 2014. This improvement in the highest levels of contamination is mirrored by the decrease in the number of human cases – an estimated 100,000 fewer cases of campylobacter in 2016.

The results met the aims agreed by the FSA Board to reduce the number of people getting ill from the food poisoning. The reduction was estimated to lead to a direct saving to the economy of over £13 million in terms of fewer days off work and NHS costs.

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