Retailers winning the chicken bug war

Retailers are winning the war on campylobacter, with levels of the highest contamination in fresh chicken down by nearly a fifth in three years, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).  

Progress continues to be made to cut campylobacter in fresh chickens, after another set of positive figures from the FSA.

Its third annual study on traces of the bug in chicken – the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK – has dished out promising results.

Across the market, over 6% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination – down more than 19% since the FSA survey began in 2014-15.

Heather Hancock, chair of the FSA, said: “The full year’s results from our third annual survey show the significant progress the industry has made in reducing campylobacter levels in chicken, compared with their starting point. The major retailers are now taking on the responsibility to publish their own results, according to a protocol we have agreed. This is a welcome step towards greater transparency.

“While we will keep a close eye on the performance of bigger retailers, it means the FSA can now focus our efforts on smaller establishments, where we haven’t yet seen the same level of improvement and where more progress needs to be made.”

Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose had “significantly lower prevalence” of campylobacter contamination compared to the industry average, according to the FSA.

However, smaller retailers and butchers, categorised as ‘others’ by the FSA, had a “higher” level of contamination of over 17%.

As per changes last month, the UK’s top nine retailers will henceforth publish their own campylobacter results and will not be included in the FSA’s annual survey.

This will give the agency more time to focus efforts on smaller retailers, independent meat trades and market stalls that are likely to be supplied by small meat processors.

Results for this year’s survey were based on 3,980 samples of whole fresh chicken sold by UK retailers and cover the period from August 2016 to July 2017.

In the final third of this year’s survey (April-July 2017) nearly 6% of the chickens sampled in this period (1,437) had the high levels of campylobacter contamination – down a fifth on the same period in 2014. 

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