The FSA has launched a strategy to cut down on incidence of campylobacter in chicken

The FSA today launched a new strategy it hopes will slash the number of food poisoning incidents from supermarket chickens infected with campylobacter, warning it would turn to regulation unless retailers go further in reducing the threat.

Campylobacter, the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, is believed to be responsible for about 460,000 cases of food poisoning, 22,000 hospitalisations and 110 deaths each year, most from poultry.

“What we have proposed in this paper is a shift in culture and a refocusing of effort by both government and the food industry to tackle this persistent and serious problem,” said FSA chief executive Catherine Brown, who is meeting retail leaders on Monday to discuss the plan.

“We want to encourage and see producers, processors and retailers treat campylobacter reduction not simply as a technical issue but as a core business priority”

Catherine Brown, FSA

“While we remain committed to joint working with industry we want to encourage and see producers, processors and retailers treat campylobacter reduction not simply as a technical issue but as a core business priority – and I see some encouraging signs of that happening.”

Brown said the FSA would improve the amount and quality of information about campylobacter levels that is available at all stages of the supply chain; address regulatory barriers to the adoption of safe and effective technological innovations; and work with local government partners and others to raise awareness.

An FSA survey of chicken on sale in the UK in 2007-8 found 65% of chicken on sale in shops was contaminated with campylobacter. It said today there had been “no evidence” of a change in the proportion of the most highly contaminated chickens since then.

In January, in an outspoken attack, Brown criticised inaction because retailers were too worried about the cost and protecting sales margins on the birds.

“I feel that because this is a complex and difficult issue there has tended to be an acceptance that a high level of contamination will inevitably occur and that there’s little that can be done to prevent it,” Brown said today. “The FSA doesn’t believe this is the case and this paper sets out how together we can make progress towards reducing the number of people who get ill from campylobacter.”

Other measures will include more support for research programmes into vaccination and other possible long-term interventions to address the issue, but the FSA said it would “use regulation if appropriate”.


A spokeswoman from the British Poultry Council said it looked forward to meeting with the FSA on Monday.

“We share the concern of the FSA about the issue of campylobacter reduction and the industry fully recognizes its responsibility to deliver safe food to consumers. We have worked with the FSA, Defra, BRC and the NFU since 2009 through the Joint Working Group on a reduction plan and the partnership approach of the JWG has been very successful in driving industry-wide efforts,” she said.

“Over 70 projects and scientific research in several areas have been trialled, including further on-farm biosecurity measures and specific slaughterhouse interventions. While much new information has been obtained through these projects, more work is required to find a consistent means of reduction. Overall, our knowledge of campylobacter has greatly increased and there are promising signs that certain actions across the poultry supply chain will contribute to meaningful reductions.”