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Survey shows further reduction in levels of campylobacter in chicken

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has 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.

Latest results

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. 

Clear results

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.

Background

The FSA has been testing chickens for campylobacter since February 2014 and publishing the results as part of its campaign to bring together the whole food chain to tackle the problem. Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK.

All results in the following table are taken from the Official Statistics report for the survey which can be found at the link below. This report gives a full explanation of the results and background to the methodology.

The FSA advises that the data for individual retailers have to be interpreted carefully. Confidence intervals are given for each retailer and the 'others' category. These show the likely range of the results allowing for the number of samples taken. The 95% confidence intervals means that we would expect the true prevalence to fall within the lower and upper confidence limits 95% of the time.

The overall prevalence of Campylobacter on chickens sampled, by retailer: Jan - Mar 2017

Retailer No. of samples % skin samples positive for Campylobacter % skin samples over 1000 cfu/g Campylobacter
Aldi 110 51.8 (42.1 – 61.4) 5.5 (2.0 – 11.5)
Asda 109 56.0 (46.1 - 65.5) 7.3 (3.2 – 14.0)
Co-op 94 63.8 (53.3 - 73.5) 4.3 (1.2 – 10.5)
Lidl 109 57.8 (48.0 – 67.2) 9.2 (4.5 – 16.2)
M&S 119 56.3 (46.9 - 65.4) 2.5 (0.5 – 7.2)
Morrisons 109 39.4 (30.2 – 49.3) 2.8 (0.6 – 7.8)
Sainsbury's 104 50.0 (40.0 – 60.0) 7.7 (3.4 – 14.6)
Tesco 104 41.3 (31.8 - 51.4) 3.8 (1.1 – 9.6)
Waitrose 110 28.2 (20.0 – 37.6) 2.7 (0.6 – 7.8)
Others 83 59.0 (47.7 – 69.7) 16.9 (9.5 – 26.7)
All 1051 48.8 (45.3 – 52.4) 6.5 (4.8 – 8.3)

95% confidence intervals are shown in brackets. These reflect the uncertainty in the estimate and provide a range of values within which the true prevalence will lie 95% of the time.

Consumer advice

Chicken is safe as long as consumers follow good kitchen practice:

  • Cover and chill raw chicken - cover raw chicken and store at the bottom of the fridge so juices cannot drip on to other foods and contaminate them with food poisoning bacteria such as campylobacter;
  • Don’t wash raw chicken - cooking will kill any bacteria present, including campylobacter, while washing chicken can spread germs by splashing;
  • Wash used utensils - thoroughly wash and clean all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, after handling raw chicken. This helps stop the spread of campylobacter by avoiding cross contamination.
  • Cook chicken thoroughly - make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.

Further information

You can see the results for the first five months of our third retail survey (published in March 2017).

Channel website: https://www.food.gov.uk/

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