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expert reaction to latest Food Standards Agency (FSA) results from its year-long survey of Campylobacter on fresh chickens

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has released the latest figures from its survey of the levels of Campylobacter present on fresh chickens.

The SMC also has a factsheet on this subject.


Dr Paul Wigley, Professor of Avian Infection and Immunity, University of Liverpool, University of Liverpool, said:

“The data are not surprising and really similar to the previous quarter.

“Although the M&S and 2 Sisters initiative is to be welcomed, there is an issue comparing summer/early autumn data to winter levels which are usually lower in chicken anyway. It is hard to determine whether this is shows success of the interventions or whether this is just normal seasonal variation.”


Dr Andreas Karatzas, food microbiologist, University of Reading, said:

“While there have been some positive strides towards reducing rates of infected chickens, the levels are still worryingly high.

“It is particularly concerning that so many chickens are being sold with bacteria on the outside of the packaging. This hugely increases the risk of cross-contamination to other food in your supermarket trolley or your fridge.

“This problem requires everyone in the food chain, from farmers, to supermarkets, and consumers, to improve practices if we want to cut infection rates. While Campylobacter is the main cause of food poisoning in the UK, it is actually one of the most fragile bacteria we know, and can be killed easily.

“While everyone in the food chain can help to prevent infection, an extra processing step between slaughter and packaging to remove bacteria from the outside of carcasses would make a difference. A move towards better packaging would also help.”


Dr Arnoud van Vliet, Campylobacter Group Research Leader, Institute of Food Research, said:

“The cumulative data from the FSA Retail Survey on Campylobacter show again that the levels of Campylobacter on retail samples are unacceptably high. Although good hygiene and thorough cooking at home and in restaurants should be enough to prevent Campylobacter food poisoning, the responsibility for solving this problem cannot and should not be with consumers alone. Hence it is very positive to see new intervention and prevention measures being tested by joint actions of retailers and poultry producers, and the preliminary data of those interventions look promising. However, continued efforts and vigilance are required from everyone involved in the process, ranging from producers and retailers to consumers, to ensure that all efforts are effective, will give long-term benefits and are economically viable. Science will continue to contribute to these efforts to ensure that interventions are knowledge-led and include an understanding of basic biology of Campylobacter.”


Prof. Chris Elliott, Chair of Food Safety, and Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“The overall numbers of Camplyobacter positives has not changed markedly from the last set published by the FSA. This is not surprising as tacking this serious problem will require a series of changes to be implemented industry wide. The promising results published by M&S are a very clear indication that no single measure will address the problem and a holistic approach is the one most likely to succeed. Similar ‘farm to fork’ plans need to be developed across the entire industry.  It should also not be forgotten that we consume a lot of chicken produce via the food service sector and their role in developing measures to reduce human exposure to the bacteria will also be crucial if we want to see a reduction in the number of cases of food poisoning each year. Our responsibility to ensure, as consumers, we store, prepare and cook chicken properly will be another hugely important part of the way we collectively deal with a very difficult issue.”




Declared interests

Dr Arnoud van Vliet receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. He also leads a consortium project funded by the Food Standards Agency to investigate the molecular epidemiology of Campylobacter coli.

Prof. Chris Elliott authored the government-commissioned Elliott review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks.

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