Campylobacter

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. Find out more about campylobacter and the risk management programme.

About campylobacter

Campylobacter is considered to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year. More than 72,000 of these were confirmed to be campylobacter poisoning (also known as campylobacteriosis) by laboratory reports.

We are continuing to analyse the full impact that campylobacter has, but previous estimates have indicated that campylobacter causes more than 100 deaths a year, and costs the UK economy about £900 million. About four in five cases of campylobacter poisoning in the UK come from contaminated poultry. Campylobacter is also found in red meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water. Although it does not normally grow in food, it spreads easily and has a low infective dose so only a few bacteria in a piece of undercooked chicken, or bacteria transferred from raw chicken onto other ready-to-eat foods, can cause illness.

We carried out a survey of campylobacter in chicken on retail sale in the UK between May 2007 and September 2008, and it reported that campylobacter was present in 65% of the fresh chicken samples tested. A European Union baseline survey carried out in 2008, and published by European Food Safety Authority in March 2010, showed the UK estimated prevalence for campylobacter in broiler batches (caecal contents) was 75.3% and 86.3% in broiler carcasses (skin samples). These results were above the weighted EU mean prevalences of 71.2% and 77% respectively. There was a wide range of campylobacter prevalence across members states varying from 4.9% to 100% in broiler carcasses and from 2% to 100% in broiler batches.

The reports of both the UK and EU surveys can be found at the links below.

The findings from these surveys show that there are campylobacter-related challenges in our food-safety system. One of the main priorities for the FSA is to reduce foodborne diseases in the UK. This is reflected in the FSA’s Science and Evidence Strategy 2010-15 and the FSA's Strategy 2015, which state that foodborne disease will be reduced using a targeted approach, and that tackling campylobacter in chicken is a priority.

The risk management programme

A campylobacter risk management programme has been developed to reduce levels of campylobacter in chicken. The programme encompasses a range of projects targeted at different points across the food chain, from farm to fork.

The FSA is working in partnership with the industry and Defra as part of a Joint Working Group on campylobacter. The working group is developing a Joint Action Plan, which will help identify and implement interventions that will reduce campylobacter. To contribute to this work the Agency is also funding new research in collaboration with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Northern Ireland Department for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Scottish Government, the research forms part of a joint strategy entitled: UK Research and Innovation Strategy for Campylobacter (UK RISC) in the food chain. More about the working group, the action plan and the FSA's research on campylobacter can be found at the links at the bottom of the page.

To measure progress on the effectiveness of the risk management programme, a joint government and industry target to ‘reduce campylobacter in UK produced chickens by 2015’ has been set.

2013 campylobacter strategy workshop

The aims of the joint government and industry working group workshop, which was held 12-14 March 2013, were to:

  • review the progress to date of research carried out as part of UK research and innovation strategy (RISC) to address ongoing challenges of developing effective interventions at a variety of points in the food chain
  • evaluate whether the UK RISC is on track
  • identify further work which may be required

The workshop provided key invited industry, researcher, funder and policymaker stakeholders the opportunity to interact directly with researchers and each other, be updated on latest research developments and provide input into the future of the UK RISC to ensure it will achieve its goals.

More about the workshop can be found in the event booklet and summary report via the links towards the end of this page.

The campylobacter target

The Food Standards Agency, Defra, the UK poultry industry, and major retailers have agreed a new target that will measure efforts to reduce the levels of the food bug campylobacter in chickens.

There are three categories of contamination levels and, currently, 27% of birds are in the highest category.

The new target is for the industry to reduce the numbers of these most contaminated birds in UK poultry houses from 27% to 10% by 2015.

It is estimated that achievement of this target could mean a reduction in campylobacter food poisoning of up to 30% – about 111,000 cases per year.

Acting on Campylobacter Together

Acting on Campylobacter Together

Acting on Campylobacter Together is a campaign to bring together the whole food chain to reduce levels of campylobacter in chicken and to reduce the burden of foodborne illness in the UK. Join us: food.gov.uk/actnow

More in this section

  • Acting on Campylobacter Together

    Tuesday 15 April 2014

    Acting on Campylobacter Together is a campaign to bring together the whole food chain to reduce levels of campylobacter in chicken and to reduce the burden of foodborne illness in the UK. Join us.

  • Campylobacter monitoring programme: results to September 2013

    Monday 27 January 2014

    Since 2009, the FSA has been working with industry to tackle campylobacter in poultry through the Joint Working Group (JWG). In 2010, the JWG agreed a target that was considered achievable to reduce the levels of campylobacter in UK-produced fresh chicken and developed an action plan to deliver the target.

  • Campylobacter reduction: Round table discussion with industry executives September 2013

    Friday 20 December 2013

    On 2 September 2013, Catherine Brown, Chief Executive of the FSA, hosted a 'round table' discussion on campylobacter reduction with 12 senior executives from leading UK poultry producers, processors and retailers.

  • Joint Working Group on Campylobacter

    Thursday 14 April 2011

    The Joint Working Group on Campylobacter was established in August 2009 as a joint industry and government group. It aims to identify interventions that would reduce campylobacter in chicken.

  • Citizens' forum: campylobacter in chicken

    Monday 20 December 2010

    The national citizens' forums held by the Food Standards Agency, gave an insight into the views and understanding consumers have of campylobacter; in particular, which interventions would be most acceptable to consumers and to what extent they are desirable.