Whole raw chicken

Waitrose has seen an increase in chickens infected with the highest levels of campylobacter on its shelves.

The retailer’s latest quarterly survey, published today, revealed that 9% of chicken samples taken between June and September 2017 tested positive for campylobacter above 1,000cfu/g (colony forming units) - up from zero the previous quarter.

It meant Waitrose had the biggest quarterly increase among the major supermarkets for the highest levels of the bug in chicken, although M&S was the worst performer, with 10% of the retailer’s chicken samples testing positive, above 1,000cfu/g in Q3 2017, up from 4% in Q2.

Aldi came in third at 8.1%, up from 6% in Q2, followed by Asda (6.1% from 5.4%) and Tesco (5% from 4%).

Waitrose admitted it was “disappointed” with the results given its previous surveys had shown a consistent reduction in campylobacter in its chicken, but said it was “not unusual” for levels of the bug to increase during warm summer weather.

“We know that the prevalence of campylobacter is reduced over a product’s shelf life and so we have ensured our sampling is random and has adhered to the FSA testing protocol,” said a spokesman. “These results demonstrate the robustness of our testing procedures and we are confident our approach is effective when viewed over the longer term.”

Read more: FSA reveals its hands-off tactics with campylobacter

Positive step

Morrisons was the best performing supermarket on this quarter, slashing its rate of highest level infection with campylobacter to 0% - from 1.7% in Q2 2017. Lidl’s levels were down from 5% to 1%, while Sainsbury’s also reduced the highest levels of infection in its chickens this quarter, although they remain above 4%.

This was the first quarterly data from retail campylobacter surveys to be published by the supermarkets themselves, under new FSA rules announced in September.

“This is a very positive step towards transparency and openness in the food sector, and one that reinforces public confidence in food,” said FSA chair Heather Hancock.

“We welcome the ongoing reduction in contamination levels that these results indicate, and the resulting benefits to public health that retailers and processors have helped deliver over the last few years.”