Study: Campylobacter found on 73% of UK Chicken

rawchickenAfter a year-long program of testing fresh chickens at supermarkets and butchers in Europe, The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is reporting that 73% of the poultry they tested was positive for Campylobacter, a potentially lethal foodborne pathogen.

A recent article reports that more than 4,000 samples of fresh, whole, chilled chickens were collected for testing between February 2014 and February 2015. In addition to finding that three-quarters of those samples were contaminated with Campylobacter, the study also found 19% of those chickens were heavily contaminated — meaning more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram were found.

Furthermore, the study found that 7% of the chicken’s packaging also tested positive for Campylobacter, meaning that it could easily cross-contaminate other fresh food in shoppers’ carts and baskets.

In Europe, Campylobacter is the most common cause of foodborne illness, with chicken being the prime culprit. The bacteria can be killed by thorough cooking but still about 280,000 people in the UK are made sick by it each year, with thousands being admitted to hospital and causing approximately 100 deaths annually.

According to the article, the chicken-processing sector in Europe is highly concentrated, with the vast majority of retail chickens being slaughtered and packed by a handful of companies. The FSA states that this is why many retail brands showed similar contamination results.

Urging the industry to take the proper steps to avoid contamination has been an ongoing battle for the FSA as they have been working for more than a decade with the poultry processing sector. In fact, the article states that an undercover investigation last year added pressure on the industry when it revealed high levels of contamination and poor hygiene and breakdowns in machinery at leading slaughterhouses.

However, since this report was released a flurry of measures have been announced by the industry to tackle Campylobacter. These include stopping some of the cost-saving intensive farming practices that are thought to contribute to the spread of the bacteria and a multi-million-pound investment in new technologies to help control the issue.

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