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Nearly three-quarters of fresh chickens in UK supermarkets and butchers are contaminated with the potentially lethal food-poisoning bug campylobacter after a year-long testing programme by the Food Standards Agency.
The cumulative results for samples taken between February 2014 and February 2015 show that 73% of poultry is contaminated with the bacteria. The survey also found that 7% of packaging tested positive for campylobacter, meaning that it could easily cross-contaminate other fresh food in shoppers’ baskets.
Last week Addmaster MD Paul Morris highlighted the dangers of contaminated outer food packaging during his keynote speech at a Royal Society for Public Health conference on food posioning. At the conference there was near unanimous recognition that contaminated outer packaging represents a greater threat to public health than the campylobacter inside chicken.
Campylobacter is the most common cause of foodborne illness in the UK, with chicken being the prime culprit. The bug can be killed by thorough cooking but each year in the UK 280,000 people are made ill by it, with many thousands being admitted to hospital as a result and around 100 people a year dying.
Asda had the worst results across the year, with 80% of its chickens contaminated, 30% of them heavily contaminated and 12% of its poultry packaging contaminated on the outside.
None of the major retailers scored well. Aldi and Lidl had similar scores for contamination, with 77% of all birds on sale testing positive for the bug, 24% of them positive at the highest level and 7% of them carrying the bacteria on the outside of packaging.
The FSA said it had not expected to see the results of these improvements in its first annual survey, since they were only implemented towards the end of the testing period, but it had seen results from samples collected later that showed progress.
It singled out Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, the Co-op and Waitrose for having these improvements already in place in its supply chain.
Richard Lloyd, executive director of the consumer watchdog Which? said: “It beggars belief that nearly three-quarters of chickens on sale in supermarkets are still infected with this potentially deadly bug and that no retailers have met the FSA’s target levels.”
Click here to see our short video on the dangers of cross-contamination during shopping.
*Please note that Addmaster was acquired by the Polygiene Group AB in January 2021, so all news articles prior to that date will still be branded as Addmaster.