Food Standards Agency
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Attitudes to treatments surveyed

The risk of food poisoning can be reduced by using slaughterhouse decontamination treatments on raw meat. Consumers have given the FSA their views on which treatments they would find acceptable.

According to the survey’s findings, rapid chilling of meat and the application of hot water or steam emerged as the two treatments consumers would find most acceptable.

Treatments using lactic acid and ozone were initially considered less acceptable, however, when consumers were given extra information on lactic acid, its acceptability increased significantly.

The survey

The survey was carried out as part of the Agency’s work to reduce the levels of campylobacter on raw poultry. More than 2,000 people across the UK gave their views on potential decontamination treatments for poultry and beef from four treatment options:

  • rapid chilling – this exposes the surface of the meat to extreme cold to rapidly reduce its temperature for a short time without freezing the flesh
  • lactic acid – the meat is sprayed with a solution of dilute lactic acid, a naturally occurring substance present in foods such as yoghurt
  • hot water or steam – the meat passes through a hot water bath or is exposed to steam in a chamber or tunnel
  • ozone – the meat is exposed to ozone gas or dipped into or sprayed with water containing ozone

Consumer responses

The survey found that consumer responses on the acceptability of the treatments were mixed:

  • Immediate reaction to lactic acid and ozone treatments was strongly negative (only 15% and 12% respectively found them acceptable). However, the acceptability of lactic acid treatment rose with some additional explanation and became positive overall, with 54% finding it acceptable.
  • Immediate reaction to rapid chilling treatment was positive, with 51% finding it acceptable and 30% unacceptable. Acceptability rose significantly when people were told treated meat could safely be frozen after purchase, with 69% then finding it acceptable.
  • Reaction to hot water or steam treatment was overall neutral, with 41% finding it acceptable and 40% unacceptable.

Clear information is key

FSA Head Of Foodborne Diseases Strategy, Bob Martin said:

'This research is extremely helpful in informing our efforts to tackle campylobacter. We have to ensure that whatever interventions we might adopt; they must not damage consumer confidence in food.

He added: 'The findings suggest that providing clear information about the treatments, such as what they are and how they work, would have a positive impact on the public’s acceptability of new treatments such as these.'

Next steps

These findings will be taken into account by the government-industry Joint Working Group on Campylobacter, which is working on developing new interventions that will reduce campylobacter. They will help to inform how interventions that are effective in reducing campylobacter can be implemented successfully and maintain consumers' confidence in their food.

Science behind the story

About campylobacter
Campylobacter is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK, with the majority of human infections being linked to the handling and consumption of chicken.

Slaughterhouse decontamination treatments could potentially have a significant effect in reducing the levels of campylobacter, and other foodborne bacteria, that consumers are exposed to when handling raw meat. In other countries, reducing contamination levels on raw poultry has been followed by a corresponding reduction in human illness.

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