Campylobacter in broilers monitoring programme

The FSA has for a number of years funded research to monitor campylobacter contamination of broiler carcases at slaughter to support work to reduce the number of human campylobacter cases as part of its foodborne disease strategy. The FSA Strategy 2010-2015 included the outcome that ‘Food produced or sold in the UK is safe to eat’.

A main priority for this is to reduce foodborne disease using a targeted approach, and tackling campylobacter in chicken as a priority.

The FSA developed the Campylobacter Risk Management Programme, working in partnership with stakeholders to achieve these aims by December 2015. Part of this programme involved establishing a joint target with industry for the reduction in levels of campylobacter in raw chicken, which was published in December 2010. This target was to reduce the percentage of the most heavily contaminated chickens at the end of the slaughter process from 27% to 10% by December 2015; it is estimated that achieving this could reduce the number of cases of food poisoning by up to 30% (approximately 90,000 cases per year).

The FSA established a programme of monitoring campylobacter contamination levels from March 2012. Samples are taken from chickens at the end of processing (post-chill) in 19 specified UK slaughterhouses and tested to determine the level of campylobacter present on the skin. Results are classified into three bands of contamination, which correspond to less than 100 colony forming units/gram (cfu/g), between 100 and 1,000cfu/g and more than 1,000cfu/g.

The table below shows results from the monitoring programme to date and how they compare with the baseline year of 2008 and with the overall target.

Recorded levels of campylobacter
  <100cfu/g <100-1,000cfu/g >1,000cfu/g
Baseline (levels in 2008) 42% 31% 27%
March 2012 – February 2013 35% 35% 30%
March 2013 – February 2014 35% 34% 31%
March 2014 – February 2015 41% 31% 28%
March 2015 – February 2016 47% 29% 23%
Target 2016 Improvement Improvement 10%

As expected, the slaughterhouse target was not met. Independent monitoring of UK chicken at slaughter from March 2015 to February 2016 inclusive indicated that the percentage of chickens contaminated with more than 1,000cfu/g of campylobacter had reduced to 23.3%. Although the latest results are encouraging there is still some way to go to meet the original target.

The campylobacter slaughterhouse monitoring programme is ongoing and the 10% target has been rolled over with new compliance target of December 2016.