The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has named and shamed grocers whose fresh chickens are contaminated with the food-poisoning bug campylobacter.

Tesco Chicken meat counter

  • 72.8% of fresh supermarket chickens are contaminated with food-poisoning bug campylobacter 
  • Grocers including Asda, the Co-op and Marks & Spencer have been named and shamed by the FSA
  • Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Waitrose and the Co-Op have put in place plans to reduce the contamination

As part of a year-long testing programme of 4,000 chicken samples taken between February 2014 and February 2015, the FSA results revealed that 72.8% of poultry is contaminated with the bacteria, which can be lethal.

The FSA results found that 19% of chickens sampled from major grocers and independent butchers were heavily contaminated, while 7% of poultry packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter.

The FSA said the results suggest that “over the period of the survey none of the retailers achieved the joint industry target for reducing campylobacter” – which is to bring the percentage of heavily contaminated birds down to 10%.

“None of the retailers achieved the joint industry target for reducing campylobacter”

The Food Standards Agency

Asda was the grocer with the highest percentage of contamination with 80.4% of its chickens housing the bug, while 29.7% of them were heavily contaminated and 12.4% of outside packaging tested positive.

Asda’s ‘Campylobacter Combat Plan’

Since the end of the testing programme, Asda has revealed its ‘Campylobacter Combat Plan’, which includes reducing the levels of campylobacter on neck and breast skin by up to 80% with a process called SonosSteam.

After trials since December, the 1.5 second steam and ultrasound application is being rolled out fully in June.

“We have been working tirelessly to find an effective solution and are confident that SonoSteam will have an impact”

Rebecca Lythe, Asda

Rebecca Lythe, Asda’s chief compliance officer said: “We have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to find an effective solution to tackling Campylobacter, and we are confident that SonoSteam will have a significant impact on reducing levels and ultimately protecting our customers.

“But, we haven’t just stopped there. We are committed to doing the right thing and have invested in a number of other trials from farm to shelf.  These include No-Thin farm trial and secondary scalding during processing.

“We are also rolling out our multi award-winning Roast-in-a Bag range to 50% of our whole chickens, introducing innovative packaging to the rest of our ranges and revising our distribution and store procedures. As always, the key message is to cook your chicken thoroughly and we have ensured our labelling clearly states not to wash chicken.”

Bacteria across the board

All major grocers scored badly, including the Co-op, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. But Tesco scored the best results with 66.5% of chickens contaminated, 12.8% heavily contaminated and 4% of packaging testing positive for campylobacter.

Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, the Co-op and Waitrose have also published recent plans on how they will reduce the bacteria among their birds, which has been recognised by the FSA.

Steve Wearne, FSA director of policy, said: “I am absolutely delighted to see the really encouraging results from these four supermarkets and their suppliers. They are making a real difference to public health, helping to cut down on the estimated 280,000 people who get ill from campylobacter each year.

“As we have always said, if you are prepared to work across the food chain to reduce the spread of this bug then you will get results.

“We expect all retailers and processors to be achieving reductions”

Steve Wearne, The Food Standards Agency

“I want to challenge those retailers who haven’t yet demonstrated the impact that M&S, Morrisons, the Co-op and Waitrose are having on reducing campylobacter on chickens on their shelves. We expect all retailers and processors to be achieving the reductions we have seen in these retailers’ figures – that’s the only way we will meet the target we all signed up to.”