Most chickens sold by UK supermarkets contain the bacterium campylobacter – the country's biggest cause of food poisoning.
An investigation published today by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed that over the last three months, 70 per cent of all fresh chickens sold by the nation's retailers tested positive for the micro-organism, and 18 per cent contained over the highest level of contamination – 1,000 bacteria per gram.
The results are the second part of a year long study into chicken contamination at UK retailers, and the latest results represent an increase compared to the first three months of the year. This is most likely due to the second quarter’s samples being taken during the summer months when an increase in campylobacter is often seen because of the warmer weather.
It is of concern because campylobacter gives an estimated 280,000 people food poisoning every year, and in most cases it comes from undercooked poultry. The reason why most people don't become ill is that if cooked well enough, campylobacter dies.
“These results show that the food industry, especially retailers, need to do more to reduce the amount of campylobacter on fresh chickens,” said Steve Wearne, FSA Director of Policy. “This shows there is a long way to go before consumers are protected from this bug.”
In the report, the FSA described tackling campylobacter as its “number one food safety priority”. It said it was “spearheading a campaign to bring together the whole food chain to tackle the problem.”
THE MAIN SUPERMARKETS
Of all the major supermarkets included in the study, Asda and the Co-operative were the only ones whose level of campylobacter was higher than the industry average, at 78 per cent and 73 per cent, respectively.
In terms of number of chickens with the highest level of contamination, Asda also came out on top with 28 per cent, but this was followed by M&S in second place with 22 per cent.
Tesco offered better results than the rest, but the FSA does not believe that any of the supermarkets have brought their levels of campylobacter down to a low enough level.
“The results suggest that none of the retailers is achieving the joint industry end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter,” the report said.