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expert reaction to the latest results from the Food Standards Agency’s survey of levels of Campylobacter levels in 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 Arnoud van Vliet, Research Leader in Food Safety, Institute of Food Research, said: 

“The data released today by the Food Standards Agency confirm that the proportion of Campylobacter-contaminated chicken meat at retail remains very high, and that it must be a priority for industry, retail and regulators to see a significant reduction of positive samples in the second year of testing by the FSA. Such progress will require the development of novel approaches that can work at different points in the food chain, and can range from changes at the poultry producers which may include feed additives and vaccination, changes in cleaning regimens at the processing stage, and initiatives such as the double bagged whole chickens at retail. Although the data published are worrying and require urgent action from the whole sector, the issue has increased the awareness of Campylobacter among consumers, which will allow them to reduce the risks of Campylobacter infection by good hygienic practices in the kitchen.”


Prof. Mark Stevens, Chair of Microbial Pathogenesis, The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, said:

“The high prevalence of Campylobacter in retail chicken has changed little since an FSA survey in 2007-8. In the interim, hundreds of thousands of laboratory-confirmed cases of human campylobacteriosis have been recorded, with many more undiagnosed in the community. Such infections exert a substantial burden on society and the economy. Poultry are unequivocally a key reservoir of human infections and the latest survey serves to highlight the importance of ongoing research to control Campylobacter at source.”


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

“The results of the FSA study are of little surprise. Campylobacter infection is endemic in chicken production and similar levels are found in other EU countries with large poultry industries. Although the FSA and poultry producers take the problem seriously, the biology of this bug make its control extremely difficult. Whilst a few hundred bacteria can make someone ill, chickens may carry many millions of the bug with relatively little disease. Our understanding of the behaviour of the bacterium in the environment and how its spreads into chicken production and poorly understood and despite its importance we know surpassingly little of how it behaves in the chicken. The controls that have been very successful in reducing Salmonella levels in chicken including good hygiene practice and biosecurity are less effective for Campylobacter. Most importantly we do not have a vaccine for Campylobacter, something which has been key to the reduction in Salmonella in chicken production over the last 20 years. We clearly know the extent of the problem and that the bug is common in all forms of chicken production including organic and free range production. Whilst some of the solutions such as surface chilling being proposed by FSA and the industry may be beneficial at least in the short term, longer term we need investment in more effective controls such as vaccines. In the meantime the advice on handling and cooking poultry from FSA should be followed to reduce the risk from this nasty little bug.


Prof. Brendan Wren, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis and Dean of Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said:

“It is a national scandal that we readily accept such a toxic food poisoning organism into our kitchens. The problem of Campylobacter in our food chain needs to be dealt with at the source by developing a vaccine for poultry flocks coupled with adequate biosafety in farms.”


Declared interests

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

Prof. Mark Stevens: I have grant income for Campylobacter research from BBSRC, FSA, Zoetis and Aviagen.

Prof. Paul Wigley: Receives funding from BBSRC, EU and DuPont, is employed by the University of Liverpool, and was a decision making-member of BBSRC Grant Committee Panel A (Animal Health, Food and welfare)

Prof. Brendan Wren: I don’t have any conflicts of interest

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