New results show that 73% of fresh shop-bought chickens in the UK are contaminated with the food poisoning bug campylobacter.
The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) results from a 12 month survey into the quality of fresh chickens show the overall rate of contamination has increased from 70% in November 2014.
Alarmingly, a fifth of chickens tested positive at the highest level of contamination, that being 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g).
The most common cause of food poisoning in the UK is campylobacter, which is responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year including more than 100 deaths annually.
Around four in five cases of campylobacter poisoning in the UK come from contaminated poultry although the bug is also found in red meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water.
Campylobacter does not normally grow in food. However, it spreads easily as only a few bacteria in a piece of undercooked chicken, or bacteria that is transferred from raw chicken onto other ready-to-eat foods, can cause illness.
When measured at the highest level of contamination, the supermarket chain Asda was found to sell the highest percentage of campylobacter-contaminated chickens at 31%.
Morrisons fared only slightly better with 23% of their chickens testing positive for the bug, followed by Marks & Spencer at 21%.
Tesco had the best record at 12% followed by Sainsbury’s at 14% and both Waitrose and the Co-operative at 16%.
These figures are unacceptable as they clearly show that none of our leading food retailers are meeting their targets for reducing campylobacter, that of less than 10% of their chickens having the highest level of contamination at the end of the slaughter process.
Most of us simply presume that the food we buy at our local supermarket is safe to eat. These figures unfortunately however show our trust is ill-founded. Although campylobacter is killed by proper cooking it shouldn’t be left to the consumer to manage the risk.
According to a 2014 Which survey of 2,000 people, two-thirds of us have never even heard of campylobacter, compared to a more than 90% awareness level of salmonella and E.coli.
The FSA will continue to test chicken samples from UK retail outlets including butchers and smaller independent stores. The final results will be published in May.
We know there are various proven technologies in use to reduce levels of campylobacter contamination.
We welcome this FSA survey and very much hope their results put sufficient pressure on both retailers and chicken processors to tackle the bug and reduce the number of people suffering food poisoning each year.
Tristan Hallam is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
We have won compensation for many people who suffered from food poisoning in the UK and abroad caused by Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, Hepatitis A virus and E. Coli. For a free consultation call our No Win, No Fee Solicitors on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online to start your claim.
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