70% Of Supermarket Chickens Test Positive For Bacteria

A new report by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has revealed that more than 70% of fresh chickens sold in UK supermarkets are contaminated.

The chickens are contaminated with the Campylobacter bacteria, that cause a common form of food poisoning.

While 70% of chickens tested positive for the presence of Campylobacter, with 18% testing positive for the bug above the highest level of contamination. A further 6% of packaging, the FSA has said, tested positive for the presence of Campylobacter, with just one sample at the highest level of contamination. The highest level of contamination is said to have a concentration of more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram.

As part of its latest study, the FSA tested 1,995 fresh whole chilled chickens, while packaging was also tested for most of these samples. Variations occurred between the different retails and for the first time, the agency has published the individual results for the major supermarket chains.

When measured at the highest levels of contamination, Asda was the worst retailer, with 28% of its chickens having a concentration of more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram. 22% of Marks and Spencer's chickens were found to be contaminated, while Tesco had an 11% contamination rate. However, it was the only major retailer whose rate was better than the industry average, the FSA said.

Steve Wearne, FSA Director of Policy, said: "These results show that the food industry, especially retailers, need to do more to reduce the amount of campylobacter on fresh chickens.

"Although we are only half-way through the survey, 18% of birds tested had campylobacter over 1,000 cfu/g, the highest level of contamination, and more than 70% of birds had some campylobacter on them. This shows there is a long way to go before consumers are protected from this bug.

"There are signs that some retailers are starting to step up to their responsibilities. When more do, we will see the sustained improvements that will help prevent many of their customers getting ill."

For example, Marks and Spencer, plus its supplier, 2 Sisters Food Group, have recently developed a five-point plan, an integrated programme of interventions along the food chain to reduce levels of Campylobacter; while Asda and its supplier, Faccenda, have committed to a new steam technology.

Campylobacter is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting around 280,000 a year, with around 100 deaths. Poultry is responsible in a majority of cases, but the FSA has said the bug can be killed by thorough cooking.


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