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More should be done to stop Campylobacter

Chicken and Campylobacter

Food experts say that freezing chicken could reduce the risks of the potentially lethal Campylobacter bug – but shouldn’t the responsibility start with the poultry producers and supermarkets?

News of tackling Campylobacter levels in chicken has hit the headlines– in fact you’ll see our response on the front pages of two newspapers today.

This is because a microbiologist from Public Health England has said that freezing chickens that are found to be carrying the bacteria can reduce the level of contamination by up to 90%.

We think it’s a complete cop out to try to put responsibility on consumers to have to clean up poor practices caused earlier in the food supply chain. The Food Standards Agency (FSA), retailers and poultry producers need to make lowering Campylobacter levels a much greater priority. The poultry industry must also clean up its act and be more accountable and transparent.

Campylobacter levels per supermarket

Earlier this month we called on the FSA to publish the result of how the supermarkets performed in terms of the levels of Campylobacter in the chicken they sell. In this tweet, the FSA committed to publishing these results any day now:

We’re continuing to press the FSA for this data as we know it’s an issue you feel strongly about. Wavechange told us:

‘In the future it may be possible to overcome the problem by vaccinating chickens but in the meantime there is a lot that could be done to clean up the processing of poultry’

And Eleanor has shared her experience of contracting the bug:

‘I’ve just recovered from Campylobacter, but as a retired Biomedical Scientist I knew both the symptoms and the origin. I visited my GP, just to have the illness notified, as I waited until I was symptom free before I went. I have always been paranoid about chicken and if I could find someplace that sells polythene gloves, I would wear them when handling chicken.’

Around 60,000 people in the UK are hospitalised or in need or medical attention as a result of Campylobacter infections. Have you experienced the bug from food poisoning?

What would you like the supermarkets and food regulators to be doing to tackle the issue?


dt, some interesting information in this handbook. Reassuringly – I hope – virtually all our unprocessed chicken comes from within the EU (though isn’t that where horsemeat originated?). So are the EU tackling the problem effectively?
Perhaps more worrying is that of the 390 000 tonnes of processed chicken (which seems to be mechanically recovered chicken and a mixture of meat and skin) comes from outside the EU – primarily Thailand and and much smaller amount from Brazil.
So are these sources being checked – or the products retailed in the UK using processed chicken?

Are you reassured?

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Phthalic acid esters
Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins
Dibenzofurans (PCDDs and PCDFs),
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Organic phosphates

Oh! and once you’ve cooked the flesh in order to be edible You have nice powerful cancer-causing heterocyclic aromatic amines.

Poultry has some of the highest concentrations of these lovely toxins.


Quote: “You have nice powerful …… heterocyclic aromatic amines ….”.

In my day, you’d be facing a shotgun wedding for talking like that!

I have concerns about the timinig of the scare and the possibility of being bounced into a culture of drugs for chickens and vaccines. A simple search shows that despite the dangers of growing resistant strains Farmacy is intent on profit.

” Internal records examined by Reuters reveal that some of the nation’s largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens an array of antibiotics – not just when sickness strikes, but as a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.
In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people. Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans.”
Reuters September 15th

[I wonder if we have TTIP we can share the benefits of US agricultural advances.]

Perhaps humans should accept that we are always going to get sick, we are always going to die, and given the huge amount of chickens eaten each year the overall “cost” is not excessive. To introduce drugs that may have unintended consequences, and procedures that add costs should be carefully weighed against the damage caused.

I’m not sure I would want to share agricultural advances with the US. I believe they introduced use of antibiotics in farming to boost yields. Scientists have been forewarning us of the dangers of misusing antibiotics in this way for decades. Making money is what matters in business, not the consequences of antibiotic resistance at some time in the future.

As I understand it, mass produced chickens carcasses are effectively bathed in dilute chicken faeces during processing, so that even birds that were not previously contaminated will be. We cannot rely on the birds being cleaned properly by handlers, often inexperienced, working under unpleasant conditions and on minimum wage. Then the chickens end up on the supermarket shelves, whether in one bag or two.

I believe that chickens should be reared in very much better conditions and not just processed in a way that encourages cross-contamination.

I do not want a panic but enough public reaction to tell our government and producers that action is needed now.


Epidemics of obesity, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis.

This is the excessive cost eating meat dairy and eggs and oils.

A simple message, don’t handle (except for your own pets), cook or eat birds!


GO VEGAN ….. and if you can’t BE a vegan …. EAT one.

There seems to be a consensus here that raw chicken on supermarket shelves is contaminated in one way or another.

What about the packaging itself and even the shelves?

We’ve all talked about handling the uncooked chicken back in own kitchens, but what do you do in the shop?

Do you pick it up from the shelf, put it in your trolley with other food?
Do you think your hands may be contaminated?

Should supermarkets provide disposable gloves and bins?

And …. of topic (again) … why don’t supermarkets have bins inside?

If anyone thought getting rid of Campylobacter might be to just have producers and retailers get their act together, and it’s all a “cop out”, then this document might help.

Which? I do think you might put all the facts together before raising demonising issues! Unless I have read it all wrong this is a far from simple problem. In the meantime, while this problem is dealt with, I still consider it would be wise to educate consumers in how best to handle and cook chicken to avoid ill effects or, if concerned, avoid chicken all together. And a few other things as well.

Malcolm – We face other complex issues related to tackling infection caused by bacteria. There is no doubt that it will take years of research to find solutions, but that does not mean that we should tackle simpler issues now. We are tackling nosocomial infections by improved cleaning practices and relatively simple ways of limiting person-to-person transmission.

There seems to be evidence that intensive rearing, stress of birds and poor practice in processing plants are contributors to the current problem. My view is that these problems should have been tackled years ago.

I hope that there will be a considerable drop in demand for poultry until there is evidence that improvements have been made.

Sorry – for nosocomial read hospital-acquired

I liked the original, wavechange. Made me look it up and add it to my vocabulary.

You have contributed to my vocabulary too, Malcolm.

I was wondering to enrol in a couple of Moocs but reading around the subjects we are discussing helps keep the mind active.

Here’s another article from the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/25/-sp-tesco-director-facing-questions-lobbying-government-dirty-chicken-report

I can cope with the government advisors deciding what information should be released to the public but strongly resent employees of Tesco or any other supermarket having any input.

wavechange, I, too, resent the way ex government ministers and civil servants with inside information, influence and access to good contacts are employed by commercial organisations largely to make use of their privileged status. They are not supposed to lobby for a length of time after leaving office. However, we have had campylobacter around for a long time so there is no point in making a scare story out of it – which is exactly what some newspapers will do – particularly when eradicating it is a far-from-simple task apparently, something that it not given real prominence. Meanwhile, educate consumers to deal with it, and monitor take-aways and restaurants to ensure they cook chicken properly, naming and shaming the defaulters.

I also hope that the FSA will ignore Tesco’s alleged plea not to name and shame. I want to know whether there is any difference between the major retailers. If not, naming will either shame all equally, or we will deduce that campylobacter is rife from all suppliers and retailers are equally affected.

Thanks for the report MR. A very interesting read particularly on the existence of disease free flocks.

One point made in the report was that the rate of human sickness had not declined despite warnings to consumers. I might be more impressed if the growth of fast food chains had been factored into the supposition that people cooking at home were still the careless ones. In any event the source of the illness and the breakdown of the age and types of people who end up as clinical cases would be of interest.

WC – As to Civil Servants floating back and forth between industry and selling as opposed to regulation. I have found this highly objectionable since it was first introuced several decades ago by Mrs Thatcher. If she had spent any reasonable time looking at how it operates in the US she would have probably thought its downsides outweigh its possible benefits.

In the US the scope for corruption are immense when a very light regulatory touch can lead to a lucrative appointment within the industry you were ostensibly regulating in the best interests of the population. Very very dirty area which may impinge on Europe through harmonising rules if TTIP is accepted.

I agree with you about what politicians can get up to, but that should be in another discussion.

Food poisoning often gets a mention, but we need something to engage with the public. I believe than if the demand for chicken can be halved, that will give a clear message that action must be taken. I don’t want to see a panic but I do want to see significant public distrust in the product, to encourage effort to tackle the campylobacter problem. I cannot remember much about the ‘panic’ about salmonella in eggs. What it did achieve was help us to appreciate the hazards of eating raw egg.

We have already learned that most of the supermarkets have been sourcing their chicken from two of the major suppliers. We may find that one supermarket is doing better than others but everyone should be able to buy safe meat, wherever they buy it from.

Handling and cooking chicken properly seems to be the immediate solution. Surely we should concentrate on precautions until a remedy is found. People will not stop eating it – it is a staple in many families diet.

I would like to see fast food outlets monitored to see how well they perform. together with processed chicken from Thailand.

Matthew says:
26 November 2014


Find another staple

Eat More Starch.
4 cups of steamed rice. 4 cups of boiled corn. 4 mashed potatoes.
4 baked sweet potatoes. 3 cups of cooked beans peas or lentils. 4 cups of boiled spaghetti noodles.
12 slices of whole grain bread .
Add this extra 600 to 900 calories of your choices of grains, legumes or starchy vegetables.

(Divided throughout the day.) You will be amazed how lean you become from it and easily get all the energy you need from these foods rather than animal fat or oils.

Matthew says:
26 November 2014

Starchy foods (carbs) – Live Well – NHS Choices

Matthew says:
26 November 2014

Landmark study in pdf here

With undeniable proof from a couple of months of additional rice and potatoes, you should eventually make starches 75 to 85 percent of your diet, with the remainder coming from fruits and vegetables—and one day soon, forgo all the meat, dairy, and vegetable oils.

A recent American study claimed to show that saturated fats, far from being bad for us, were in fact beneficial – participants were fed 3 times the recommended amount with no ill effects. On the other hand, excessive carbohydrates – e.g. potatos, rice, sugar – were apparently harmful. So once again conflicting dietary advice. Personally I ignore this sort of stuff and eat what I regard as a balanced diet – meat, dairy, veg, fruit – and will continue on this path. This will include chicken, turkey (just the once) but all properly cooked at home from what I hope are reputable suppliers.

We should be seeing the named supermarkets list soon from the FSA unless Tesco have their alleged way.

The British Poultry Council is the UK trade body for the poultry industry. Their website lists their current members. In a press release today, BPC states that: “The Joint Working Group on Campylobacter has today launched a website allowing consumers to follow its progress in tackling the bacterium.” Full press release: http://www.britishpoultry.org.uk/consumers-now-able-to-track-fight-against-campylobacter-online/

The website mentioned is here: http://www.campylobacter.org.uk

This FSA report, the timing of its release and suspicions about its contents . . . It all calls to mind that old song “Hey little hen, When, when, when, Will you lay me an egg for my tea?” I think we’ve been waiting long enough now.

Eggs and chicken are temporarily unavailable. Please make an alternative selection.

The results are in – which supermarket’s chicken had the highest levels of Campylobacter? Find out: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/campylobacter-results-per-supermarket-asda/

Given the few major processors and distributors the results are hardly surprising. Have we checked the processors and distributors – including those handling Thailand’s 300 000 plus tons of mechanically recovered “meat” that we import? And what about fast food outlets – do they cook reliably?

Handle and cook your chicken properly until this apparently difficult problem is solved. Unless anyone has a magic solution (in which case I will eat my words as well as my chicken).

I favour a pheasant for the festive furlough.

Should this thread still be open to new posts?

Now we have:

It must be very confusing to newcomers to find the same subject discussed on multiple threads.

Gil Domingue says:
9 December 2015

Disagree that responsibility starts with the producers and supermarkets. The first intervention should have been a cost-effective vaccine as for salmonella in poultry. The latter were introduced in the late 90’s and their introduction was associated with a resultant plummet in salmonellosis associated with poultry. If only previous and present governmental agencies had promoted a cost-effective vaccine we would be better off today. The campylo types associated with human infection are known – the info is in the PHE databases. This might be a departure point for vaccine research.

From Farmers Weekly: “Norfolk-based poultry company Banham Poultry is working in partnership with the University of Swansea, Ridgeway Biologicals and Crowshall Veterinary Services to develop a new autogenous vaccine against campylobacter.
Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, the project aims to identify so-called “survivor strains” of the campylobacter bacteria – those that survive in the bird, throughout processing, right through to the point of consumption.
Once identified, these specific strains can then be incorporated into vaccines, with the aim to prevent birds becoming infected at farm level.”

Bearing in mind that all the supermarkets are still selling a significant number of heavily contaminated chickens, I welcome this research.