Further reductions of campylobacter found in poultry
Published:  25 February, 2016

Results published today by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed further decreases of the presence of campylobacter in fresh shop-bought chickens.

The results come from the organisation’s second quarter of testing, from October to December 2015.

A decrease was apparent in the number of birds with the highest level of contamination from the same months of the previous year. The most heavily contaminated birds, which carry more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g), are the focus of the current industry-agreed target. This equates to more than 7% of chickens at retail having the highest levels of contamination. According to FSA research, reducing the number of birds in this category will have the biggest positive impact on public health.

Recent data showed that campylobacter was present in 59% of chicken samples in October to December, down from 74% in the same months of 2014.

“These results are heading in the right direction and we must continue to build on this progress,” commented Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA.

“Retailers and processors must ensure the interventions that are working are embedded in industry practice. We have also arrived at a point where consumers expect access to data about campylobacter, so the FSA must ensure its survey remains robust and work with industry to ensure as much sampling data as possible are available to the public.”

These results come from the second quarter of the FSA’s second survey, consisting of 966 samples of fresh whole chilled UK-produced chickens and packaging being tested. The products were purchased from large UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.

Prevention methods

The FSA believes that interventions, including improved biosecurity, SonoSteam, and the trimming of neck skins introduced by some retailers to tackle campylobacter, may be helping to deliver positive results.

According to the FSA, neck skin is the most heavily contaminated skin area. By trimming the flesh on this part of the bird, it reduces the chances of the animal carrying campylobacter. However, the results of this prevention method mean that although it makes chickens safer, comparisons to the first year’s survey could potentially be more difficult in future quarters, as most samples from the previous year will have analysed more neck skin. The FSA said it would review the impact of this successful intervention to ensure the survey results remained robust.

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, making an estimated 280,000 people ill every year.