Neck skin removal leads to campylobacter testing suspension

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is to suspend its campylobacter testing programme, due to unreliable data caused by the increasing practice by retailers of removing neck skin on birds. 

In a statement it said: “The way we have conducted the testing for campylobacter levels has been to measure the amount of the bug on the neck skin of the chicken – because, generally, this is the most contaminated part of the bird.

“However, a growing number of processors are removing the neck skin before the birds are put on the supermarket shelves. This is good news for the consumer because it reduces the amount of campylobacter on the bird, but it gives us a problem with our analyses. Given that chicken samples now contain varying amounts of neck skin, it makes it difficult for us to compare fairly one retailer with another and to give accurate comparisons with previous quarterly results.

“We have therefore decided to suspend the survey for the time being while we look again at what sort of testing we might do to provide clear information on the progress being made by retailers to tackle campylobacter.”

The FSA is currently assessing testing options for the future and hopes to restart sampling in the summer, as well as place the onus on retailers more to test and publish results.

It will publish some results for the third quarter of this year’s survey in May.

“As with previous quarters, publication of the data follows Office of National Statistics rules. However, because of the issues outlined above, we will simply be giving an overall figure for the amount of campylobacter on chicken and will not this time be breaking the figures down by retailer. Since we have temporarily suspended sampling, we won’t be publishing a final quarter set of results within this survey.

Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA, added: “Tackling campylobacter remains our number one priority. The ultimate test to show whether our campaign is working is to see whether fewer people get ill. That’s why we want to see 100,000 fewer cases of campylobacter each year from the end of March 2017. So there’s no let-up for industry: we want to see continuing efforts to reduce this bug on our chickens.”

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