Incidence of Campylobacter in Fresh Raw Chicken From UK Retailers is Alarming, Finds FSA Survey


A year-long study conducted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK has revealed an alarmingly high prevalence of campylobacter – a food poisoning bug – in fresh chicken. As part of the survey, as many as 4,000 samples of whole chickens (raw), purchased from leading retailers as well as independent stores in the UK, were tested and 73% of these samples were found to contain campylobacter.

According to the study, all of the country’s major food retailers fell short of the industry targets that were set for reducing the incidence of the bug over the period of this survey. But what comes as a slight relief is that retail giants such as Morrisons, Marks & Spencers, Waitrose, and the Co-op reported a slight dip in contamination rates.

The four retailers conducted their own case studies to demonstrate their plans for reducing the levels of the food poisoning bug. The results of these case studies have been published over the last few months by these retailers. The data from the case studies pertains to samples that were procured more recently than the FSA study. Commenting on these case studies, the FSA said that a significant decrease has been noted in the incidence of campylobacter in the retailers’ raw chickens.

Campylobacter is notorious for being the most commonly-occurring food poisoning bug in the UK. About 280,000 people are affected by the bug every year, statistics show. The bug originates from the poultry, and cooking meat to the recommended temperature kills the bug. Infection caused by the bug produces symptoms such as gut-wrenching pain as well as fever, and diarrhea. While the illness lasts no longer than a few days, it can lead to several other health problems such as reactive arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. In some cases, the infection can prove to be fatal.

The presence of campylobacter is a concern because it easily spreads to other food products that are prepared in the same utensils or space. 

The highest rate of contamination was seen in samples taken from Asda (80%), closely followed by the Co-op (78%), and trailed by Morrison's (76%). While 74% samples from Waitrose were seen to carry campylobacter, tests on Sainsbury's samples reported 70% incidence of the bug. Both Tesco and Marks & Spencer reported 67% contamination with campylobacter.

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