Campylobacter survey: cumulative results from the full 12 months (Q1 - Q4)

Last updated:
28 May 2015
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The FSA has today published the final set of results from its year-long survey of campylobacter on fresh chickens. Campylobacter is a food bug mainly found on raw poultry and is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK.

Cumulative results for samples taken between February 2014 and February 2015[1] have now been published as official statistics, including results presented by major retailer. The report can been found via the link further down this page.

The results for the full year show:

  • 19% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination*
  • 73% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter
  • 0.1% (five samples) of packaging tested positive at the highest band of contamination
  • 7% of packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter

*More than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (>1,000 cfu/g). These units indicate the degree of contamination on each sample.

More than 4,000 samples of fresh whole chilled chickens and packaging have been tested. The chickens were bought from large UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers. The data shows variations between the retailers, but none has met the target for reducing campylobacter (see table below). A full analysis of the survey results, including the publication of the raw data and the full year results for smaller supermarkets and shops, is being carried out by the FSA and will be published later in the summer.

Further details of the ongoing testing of chickens for campylobacter were also confirmed by the FSA. A new survey will start this summer and once again sample fresh whole chickens from all types of shops. Continued testing will help the FSA to measure the impact of the interventions now being introduced by the industry to tackle campylobacter.

The FSA has welcomed the publication today of case studies by Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, the Co-op and Waitrose  showing the results of their recently implemented campylobacter reduction plans. The data show significant decreases in the incidence of campylobacter on their raw whole chickens. The tests were carried out on more recent samples than those taken from the FSA survey samples, with some targeted to demonstrate the effect of particular interventions.

Steve Wearne, FSA Director of Policy, said: ‘I am absolutely delighted to see the really encouraging results from these four supermarkets and their suppliers. They are making a real difference to public health, helping to cut down on the estimated 280,000 people who get ill from campylobacter each year.

‘As we have always said, if you are prepared to work across the food chain to reduce the spread of this bug then you will get results.

‘I want to challenge those retailers who haven’t yet demonstrated the impact that M&S, Morrisons, the Co-op and Waitrose are having on reducing campylobacter on chickens on their shelves.  We expect all retailers and processors to be achieving the reductions we have seen in these retailers’ figures – that’s the only way we will meet the target we all signed up to.

‘We are going to run this survey for a second year and will again look at campylobacter levels on chickens at retail sale. I hope that we will be able to see the results from the actions taken by the four retailers mentioned above and others come through and produce much lower figures for the incidence of campylobacter on the chicken we buy.’

Richard MacDonald, Chair of the ACT (Acting on Campylobacter Together) Board, said: ‘I have been impressed by the level of commitment and tangible action being taken by a number of retailers and processors of chicken. I hope we continue to see further progress in our fight to significantly reduce or even eradicate campylobacter on chickens. Individual actions and cross-industry sharing of best practice are starting to have a real and tangible impact.’

 

Summary of results by retailer

All results below are taken from the official statistics report for the survey which can be found at the link below. This report gives a full explanation of the results and background to the methodology.

The FSA advises that the data for individual retailers have to be interpreted carefully. Confidence intervals are given for each retailer and the ‘others’ category. These show the likely range of the results allowing for the number of samples taken.

The 95% confidence intervals means that we would expect the true prevalence to fall within the lower and upper confidence limits 95% of the time. A key factor in the width of this interval is the sample size. Those retailers with a relatively low market share have a low sample size and correspondingly wide confidence intervals.

The results show, taking the confidence intervals into account, that Tesco is the only one of the main retailers which has a lower incidence of chicken contaminated with campylobacter at the highest level (>1000 cfu/g), compared to the industry average.  Asda is the only main retailer which has a higher incidence of chicken that is contaminated by campylobacter at the highest level, compared to the industry average. However, the results suggest that over the period of the survey none of the retailers achieved the joint industry target for reducing campylobacter.

Retailer

Number of
samples

% skin samples positive for campylobacter (95% confidence interval)

% skin samples
>1,000 cfu/g campylobacter (95% confidence interval)

% pack samples positive for campylobacter (95% confidence interval)

Asda

662

80.4  (77.3 - 83.4)

29.7  (26.3 - 33.2)

12.4  (10 - 15.0)

Co-op

378

78.1  (73.8 - 82.2)

19.1  (15.3 - 23.1)

4.9  (2.9 - 7.2)

M&S

130

67.1  (58.9 - 75.1)

17.4  (11.1 - 24.1)

2.9 (0.6 - 6.0)

Morrison’s

349

75.8 (71.4 - 80.0)

22.0  (17.7 - 26.4)

11.2  (8.1 - 14.6)

Sainsbury’s

557

69.7  (65.8 - 73.5)

16.4  (13.3 - 19.6)

4.9  (3.1 - 6.8)

Tesco

1,235

66.5  (63.9 - 69.0)

12.8  (10.9 - 14.6)

4.0  (3.0 -5.2)

Waitrose

111

73.8  (65.0 - 82.1)

18.4  (10.8 - 26.7)

9.7  (3.8 - 16.3)

Others[2]

589

76.8  (73.3 - 80.1)

23.9  (20.5 - 27.4)

6.7  (4.8 - 8.8)

Total

4,011

72.8 (71.4 -74.2)

19.4 (18.2 - 20.6)

6.7 (5.9 - 7.5)

 

[2]The ‘Others’ category includes supermarkets where the market share was deemed small using the 2010 Kantar data: eg Lidl, Aldi, Iceland, plus convenience stores, independents, butchers etc.

Consumer advice

The FSA is pressing the industry to play its part in reducing the levels of campylobacter contamination at each production stage to as low a level as possible before raw chicken reaches the consumer. Chicken is safe as long as consumers follow good kitchen practice:

  • Cover and chill raw chicken: Cover raw chicken and store on the bottom shelf of the fridge so juices cannot drip on to other foods and contaminate them with food poisoning bacteria such as campylobacter.
  • Don’t wash raw chicken: Cooking will kill any bacteria present, including campylobacter, while washing chicken can spread germs by splashing.
  • Wash hands and used utensils: Thoroughly wash and clean all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, after handling raw chicken. This helps stop the spread of campylobacter by avoiding cross contamination.
  • Cook chicken thoroughly: Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.

[1]The intention of the survey was to represent a full 12-month period (mid February 2014 – mid February 2015). However, owing to the practicalities of collecting the samples required, the survey had to be extended slightly into the first week of March 2015.

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