Poultry chickens

Supermarkets have made further progress in cutting campylobacter in chicken, but infection levels remain worryingly high in samples from butchers and independents, according to the FSA’s third and final annual campylobacter survey.

Across the entire UK retail market, 54% of 3,980 chicken samples taken from August 2016 to July 2017 tested positive for campylobacter, down from 73.2% in 2014/15.

Among the top nine retailers, just 5.6% of samples tested positive for the highest level of contamination with the bug (over 1,000 colony forming units per gram - cfu/g). Waitrose (2.7%), Morrisons (2.9%) and Tesco (4.2%) achieved the lowest prevalence of high-level contamination.

Those three supermarkets also achieved the lowest levels of total campylobacter contamination, with Waitrose leading the field at just 38.6%.

However, chicken from smaller retailers and butchers had a “significantly higher” prevalence of high-level contamination at 17.1%. Total contamination levels in chicken sold by smaller retailers were also higher than the average, at 71.7%.

The results mark the final time the FSA will centrally report on the performance of the top nine supermarkets, after it announced plans last month to allow retailers to report their own results.

The FSA will instead turn its attentions to the reducing instances of campylobacter in chickens sampled from smaller, independent shops, and from smaller processors.

“The full year’s results from our third annual survey show the significant progress the industry has made in reducing campylobacter levels in chicken, compared with their starting point,” said FSA chair Heather Hancock.

“The major retailers are now taking on the responsibility to publish their own results, according to a protocol we have agreed. This is a welcome step towards greater transparency.

“Whilst we will keep a close eye on the performance of bigger retailers, it means the FSA can now focus our efforts on smaller establishments, where we haven’t yet seen the same level of improvement and where more progress needs to be made.”