Poultry leaders unite with retailers to tackle bug

Retailers and the poultry industry have teamed up to publish a plan detailing how they will substantially reduce the problem of Campylobacter bacteria in poultry meat.

Launching Tackling Campylobacter – A Commitment Across The Supply Chain, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and British Poultry Council (BPC) said retailers and poultry companies were committed to working together with government to find effective solutions to tackle the issue.

Campylobacter bacteria occur naturally in poultry and other animals, but can cause illness in humans. However, it can be readily controlled by following basic food hygiene and thorough cooking.

The BRC and BPC said measures were already under way, and included working with producers to review on-farm bio-security, such as ensuring the latest hygiene practices are being used, and rolling out leak-proof packaging across poultry ranges in shops.

Longer-term targeted trials are also being conducted. The BRC and BPC have established a joint working group, comprising the food industry, Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Defra, which has been set up to scrutinise the potential controls.

Where the group finds effective methods for reducing Campylobacter that customers accept, but are currently ruled out by EU regulation, a strong case will be put forward for amendments to allow their use in the UK. This includes using naturally occurring substances, such as organic acids and water in slaughterhouses. Other countries outside the European Union (EU) have made progress in reducing the bacteria using methods that are currently not permitted here.

Sally Barber, British Retail Consortium food policy advisor, said: “Campylobacter is a complex organism and there are no quick fixes. We have already reduced cases of Salmonella to some of the lowest levels in Europe. Building on this success, retailers are working with poultry producers and the government to find effective solutions to tackle Campylobacter.

“But crucially, consumers must follow basic hygiene principles to prevent cross-contamination during food preparation and thoroughly cook chicken. We fully support the FSA’s work on increasing knowledge of safe food preparation as well as substantially improving standards across UK restaurants and caterers.”

Peter Bradnock, BPC chief executive, said “This co-ordinated whole food chain approach to tackling Campylobacter is already showing benefits in standardised testing and sharing technical information across the working group members. We still need to know more about this organism but we need to be sure we are doing all we can with the science we already have at every point in the chain. The British poultry industry is fully committed to this action.”

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