FSA takes action on campylobacter

Poultry is among the main causes of campylobacter-based food poisoning cases, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said before launching a new paper in a bid to tackle the bug next week.

According to the FSA, a significant proportion of poisoning cases come from poultry and a survey of chicken on sale in UK shops from 2007/08 indicated that 65% were contaminated with campylobacter. It said there was no evidence of change in the number of chickens contaminated since the survey was carried out.

As a result, the FSA has researched a new paper and has said it expects the industry to work on improving biosecurity at the farm level and beyond.

The poultry industry will be urged to ensure measures preventing carcase contamination at the slaughter level are taken, as well as ensuring security is in place at the farm level. The FSA has also asked the industry to further its work on initiatives, such as packaging, to reduce cross-contamination in consumer and foodservice kitchens.

However, a spokeswoman from the British Poultry Council (BPC) told MeatInfo.co.uk that this was an issue being seriously discussed in the industry already. She said: “We share the concern of the FSA about the issue of campylobacter reduction and the industry fully recognises its responsibility to deliver safe food to consumers.

“Overall, our knowledge of campylobacter has greatly increased and there are promising signs that certain actions across the poultry supply chain will contribute to meaningful reductions.”

FSA chief executive Catherine Brown, meanwhile, said the paper would be a “shift in culture” and would refocus government and food industry efforts in order to tackle the problem.

“I feel that because this is a complex and difficult issue, there has tended to be an acceptance that a high level of contamination will inevitably occur and that there’s little that can be done to prevent it,” she said.

Yet Brown said she and the FSA did not believe that was the case and cited the paper as a way to make progress towards reducing the number of people getting ill from campylobacter.

She said: “I am hosting a round-table discussion with industry leaders on Monday, 2 September where we will explore these ideas more fully.”

Statistics show campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, thought to be responsible for around 460,000 cases. More than 22,000 people are hospitalised each year and the bug is blamed for around 110 deaths annually.

Plans drawn-up by the FSA will aim to, among other things:

• improve the amount and quality of information about campylobacter levels that is available at all stages of the supply chain;
• address regulatory barriers to the adoption of safe and effective technological innovations for reducing campylobacter risks at all stages in the food supply chain;
• drive changes in behaviour and approach, using tools including regulation if appropriate.