According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), campylobacter has been found on the outer part of packaging of 4% of chickens and in 59% of fresh shop-purchased birds.
These figures have been revealed in the first quarterly results from the 12-month survey done by the FSA on the levels and prevalence of campylobacter contamination on whole fresh chickens and its packaging.
The results are consistent with studies done previously where it was shown that about 67% of raw poultry carries campylobacter. Although the bacteria is wiped out by thorough cooking, it is the most common food poising type in the UK and around 280000 people are affected by it on an annual basis.
The chief executive of the FSA, Catherine Brown, said the low contamination levels found on packaging indicates the effectiveness of the packaging which is leak-free. This type of packaging reduces the risks of cross contamination in kitchens. However, she stated that suppliers can still do a lot more to ensure that consumers can buy food with confidence.
She said that the poultry supply chain is reviewing interventions, such as improved farm biosecurity, anti-microbial washes and rapid surface chilling, in a bid to reduce the bacteria level. If they activate these interventions which are designed to make a difference, the FSA survey figures will be used to note any impact.
Last month, the FSA was attacked for not wanting to ‘name and shame’ suppliers and retailers in the survey. The agency’s initial plan was to publish its quarterly results, with details of the retailer that sold the chicken, the processing abattoir, and whether the bird had tested positive for the bacteria and the level of bacteria found. However, the agency backtracked on their plans, stating that they would not name the processors and retailers until the publication of the annual results next year.
The results which have been published today are representative of 853 samples. The full survey will include 4000 samples of while chickens purchased from UK retail outlets, butchers and independent stores.
The results are displayed in two sections. The first is for the contamination levels per bird, which is taken from the neck flap. It is expressed as cfu/g meaning colony forming units per gram. The second section includes contamination levels on the outside of the packaging.
The first quarter results indicate that 59% of chickens tested positive for Campylobacter, with 16% of the birds tested at this point of the survey showing the highest levels of contamination of greater than 1000cfu/g. The detection limit for the bacteria is 10cfu/g, so only contamination above this level is confirmed as a positive result. The levels below 10 are indicated as negative results.
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