Human cases of campylobacter drop by 17%

Figures from UK surveillance bodies show a 17% decline in the number of laboratory reports of human cases of campylobacter in 2016. 

The data was provided by Public Health England, Public Health Wales, Health Protection Scotland and the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

Heather Hancock, chairman of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said: “The challenge we set of reducing the number of people who get ill from campylobacter has been achieved. In the absence of any other clear indicators, we can reasonably say that the work that we and the food industry have done from farm to fork has given us this really positive result for public health.”

According to the FSA, retail levels of campylobacter in chicken have also continued to decline. The results for the first five months of its third retail survey, from August to December 2016, showed that, overall, 7% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination.

Among the nine retailers with the highest market share, 5% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination.

The results showed a decrease in the number of birds with the highest level of contamination compared to the same months in 2015 and 2014. The new data showed 7% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination, down from 12% for the same period in 2015 and 20% in 2014.

The percentage of chickens that tested positive for the presence of campylobacter at any level is 56%, down from 66% in 2015 and 78% in 2014. This includes samples with very low levels of campylobacter, which would be unlikely to cause illness.

Retailer No. of samples % skin samples positive for campylobacter % skin samples over 1000 cfu/g campylobacter
Aldi 150 60.0 (51.7 – 67.9) 6.7 (3.2 – 11.9)
Asda 150 55.3 (47.0 – 63.4) 6.0 (2.8 – 11.1)
Co-op 148 46.6 (38.4 – 55.0) 6.1 (2.8 – 11.2)
Lidl 159 56.6 (48.5 – 64.4) 6.9 (3.5 – 12.0)
M&S 148 71.6 (63.6 – 78.7) 9.5 (5.3 – 15.4)
Morrisons 152 53.6 (45.0 – 61.4) 3.3 (1.1 – 7.5)
Sainsbury’s 154 48.7 (40.6 – 56.9) 2.6 (0.7 – 6.5)
Tesco 159 47.2 (39.2 – 55.2) 5.7 (2.6 – 10.5)
Waitrose 135 44.4 (36.3 – 52.6) 5.2 (2.1 – 10.4)
Others 137 82.5 (75.1 – 88.4) 19.7 (13.4 – 27.4)
All 1492 55.8 (52.9 – 58.5) 7.0 (5.6 – 8.5)

The FSA is also changing how it monitors campylobacter at slaughterhouse level, developing plans that may include targeting specific sites with FSA inspections. The retail survey will continue to take place.

Hancock said the reduction in retail levels was the result of collaboration in the industry.

“This has been achieved by working with the industry to tackle this difficult problem and raising consumer awareness. We commend the efforts of the larger retailers and the major processing plants who supply them, all of which have shown significant improvement and many have achieved the target we set to reduce the highest levels of campylobacter. They have invested a lot of effort and money into interventions to tackle the problem.

She added that there was still more progress to be made on the issue, especially among smaller businesses.

“But there is more to be done and our focus now is on encouraging the smaller retailers and processors, who generally haven’t met target levels, to follow the lead of the major players, and we are considering how we can best help them and monitor their progress.”

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