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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?

Comments
Member

Bearing in mind the reaction to Edwina Currie’s warning about salmonella in eggs in 1988, I wonder if it is a good idea to release information that could be used by the press to help panic the public. On the other hand, if it means that action is taken to deal with the problem, public concern may be what is needed.

It is certainly not acceptable that the problem of campylobacter is sufficiently bad for the Food Standards Agency to have warned us not to wash chicken. The industry must clean up its act.

I was going to eat chicken this evening, for the first time since we last discussed the problem. I have lost my appetite now.

Member
Blu Skydive says:
19 November 2014

I had a bout of Campylobacter a couple of years ago after getting lunch forms market street stall.
The initial fever and aches were a proverbial walk in the park in comparison to what was to be a week of serious bed-ridden contemplation of investing in Pampers.

Not even being able to make it to the GP, and as she was so entertained by my rushing back and forth to the toilet, my wife was tasked with delivering samples to Doc.
Rest, a course of antibiotics and sudocream for the “affected area” were enough to get me over it but after reading quite deeply into the causes, the general consensus was that undercooked meat was the primary culprit.

I’m not sure that supermarkets can do too much to alleviate the problem and it should be down to the consumer to ensure that meat is thoroughly cooked before consumption.

Personally, I’ll never eat from a market stall again but have no issues with supermarkets.

Member

Let us see if there are any differences between the supermarkets. Hopefully the survey will be comprehensive. I enjoyed roast chicken last night and hope to continue to do so. But is there a best place to buy one? Have they also included KFC, MacDonalds and the like?

Member

So 1 in a thousand people were “hospitalised or in need or medical attention as a result of Campylobacter infections.”

I am just curious how this compares
with other countries,
other sources of food /stomach based hospitalisations /attention
how far does society go in expense to save those who cook poorly
and ultimately can it never realistically be eradicated

Member

A substantial number of birds carry campylobacter in their bowels without showing signs of illness. It has been suggested that this problem is largely due to poor animal husbandry including the fact that so many birds are confined in a small space. When these birds are eviscerated, the carcasses of birds that were free from campylobacter becomes contaminated with bacteria from the bowels of birds ones that carry campylobacter.

The chicken sitting on the supermarket shelf could effectively be marinaded in chicken faeces and not washed throughly before sale. In some countries, poultry carcasses are washed in bleach and recently it has been proposed that steam or blast-freezing could help control the problem. My view is that we should be looking hard at improving husbandry and how carcasses are processed in abattoirs before going down these routes.

The risks of undercooking meat are well known, and so is the danger of cross contamination of cooked food, but the campylobacter problem is more serious because of the higher level of contamination than seen with other raw meat.

Member

My goodness. The photo in Sam’s introduction has changed from a few hens in a green field to something more sinister.

Member

hehe thanks – that’s what we were going for 🙂

Member

I am being asked by Which? to sign a petition for supermarkets to act on campylobactor:

…”Today, we’re calling on the supermarkets, the Food Standards Agency and the chicken processing industry to:
Immediately set out the action they will take to bring Campylobacter under control.
Make public the results of campylobacter testing.”

I am totally in favour, of course, of taking action. However, we are told that FSA are publishing this month the first results of “how supermarkets performed” and the FSA website states:

“The poultry supply industry needs to make some significant changes but producers, processors, caterers and retailers have all committed to their part in the fight against campylobacter. Consumers will be able to be the judges of any progress, or lack of progress, that they make.

On a quarterly basis over the next year, the FSA will release the results of tests carried out on about 1,000 samples of chicken being sold by UK retailers. In 2015, we will publish a statistical analysis of the first full-year survey. The information published for each sample will include details about where the chicken was bought, the abattoir that processed it, whether or not the sample contained campylobacter and if so, how heavily it was contaminated.

Everyone is working hard to solve this:”

So if this is all in hand, why do we need a petition?

Member

Hi Malcolm, thanks for your comment. We’re keen to see the FSA results when they come out about supermarkets, we had to push to make that happen. But it’s not enough to just see the testing or for just the FSA to be sharing their data. We want supermarkets and the chicken processing industry to make public the results of campylobacter testing too and for everyone to set out the action they will take individually and together in response to the shocking levels of campylobacter the FSA have reported.

Member

I agree with Malcolm that effort is being put in to solving the problem, but I am do not understand why supermarkets are being targeted. As I see it, we should be pointing fingers at those responsible for the production side.

I suspect that supermarkets are indirectly responsible by the pressure the put on producers to supply at competitive prices, resulting in corners being cut. When I was young, chicken was relatively expensive, but it is now a cheap meat.

Looking at how supermarkets are keeping milk prices down when other prices are rising, I would not be surprised if there could be quality or safety issues soon. I hope not.

Member

Hello,

As Malcolm has noted above we’ve just launched a campaign today which you can find at http://www.which.co.uk/campylobacter

We know that soon the Food Standards Agency will reveal which supermarkets are the worst offenders for selling chickens with unacceptably high levels of campylobacter. There can be no shirking responsibility – everyone involved in producing and selling chickens needs to act immediately.

We want supermarkets, the Food Standards Agency, the chicken processing industry to make chicken safe before it reaches shoppers by:

1) Immediately setting out the action they will individually and collectively take to bring campylobacter levels under control
2) Making public the results of campylobacter testing

Member

I wonder what is holding up the release of the data. The pecking order of big supermarkets will be some of the most market-sensitive information put in the public domain for some time; timing will be crucial. Depending on its content, and which retailer is in bottom position, it could make the Royal Mail’s recent warning and the effect on its corporate value look like chicken feed.

And with Christmas approaching, does anyone know whether turkeys are susceptible to campylobacter?

Member

When the previous Conversation was published I tried to find out if turkey was less of a risk, but could not find anything definite. In the meantime I have been buying turkey and crossing my fingers.

Member

Thanks Wavers; I’ll look for a wishbone and count to three.

Member

John,
Found this on the web:
“Campylobacter germs (bacteria) are commonly found in raw meat, particularly raw poultry such as chicken, turkey, etc. Cooking meat thoroughly usually kills the bacteria. Campylobacter may also be found in unpasteurised milk or untreated water (including ice cubes made from untreated water). Occasionally, mushrooms and shellfish can contain campylobacter.

Pets (including cats and dogs) and other animals infected with campylobacter can also pass on the bacteria to you. For example, cases of campylobacter have occurred after visiting farms. (Note: in animals, campylobacter rarely causes any symptoms for the animals themselves.)”

So best have a vegetarian festivity and don’t buy a pet: a dog is not just for Christmas.

Member

Thanks Malcolm. Duck’s pretty much of the menu now I should think, chicken’s going the same way, and turkey has a question mark over it. The good thing is that, so far as Christmas dinners are concerned, they are mostly cooked [if not over-cooked] at home rather than bought on the street and I would guess the universal outcome is a safe meal. I think the public health advice not to wash poultry under running water should be more prominent; many might not understand the reason.

Member
ChickenKing says:
20 November 2014

Campylobacter is killed after cooking for 30 seconds at 75C

Member

“People are being sold chickens with potentially lethal levels of bacteria, but action is not happening quickly enough to clean up this mess.

We want supermarkets, the Food Standards Agency and the chicken processing industry to make our chicken safe by:

1) Immediately setting out the action they will individually and collectively take to bring Campylobacter levels under control

2) Making public the results of Campylobacter testing
If you agree, sign our petition to make chicken safe:”

” The latest available figures for deaths registered in the United Kingdom are for the year 2010. We are therefore not able to provide figures for 2011.

In the United Kingdom there were 35 deaths with an underlying cause related to food poisoning in 2010. The International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10) codes used to define food poisoning are presented in Box 1. Although all of the causes of death included in the answer are related to the ingestion of food, it is not possible to say whether these deaths were definitely associated with the ingestion of food, water or any other substance, since this is not routinely recorded on the death certificate.”

Box 1: Causes of death related to food poisoning—International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10)
ICD-10 code(s) Cause of death
A00-A01 Cholera, Typhoid and paratyphoid fevers
A02 Other salmonella infections (excluding typhoid and paratyphoid fevers)
A04.0 Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli infection
A04.1 Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli infection
A04.2 Enteroinvasive Escherichia coli infection
A04.3 Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli infection
A04.4 Other intestinal Escherichia coli infection
A04.5 Campylobacter enteritis
A05 Other bacterial foodborne intoxications
A07 Other protozoal intestinal diseases
A32 Listeriosis
B66.1 Clonorchiasis
B66.3 Fascioliasis
B66.4 Paragonimiasis
B68-B70 Taeniasis, Cysticercosis, Diphyllobothriasis and sparganosis
B75 Trichinellosis
B81.0 Anisakiasis
T62 Toxic effect of other noxious substances eaten as food (where X49, X69 or Y19 is the underlying cause)
T64 Toxic effect of aflatoxin and other mycotoxin food contaminants (where X49, X69 or Y19 is the underlying cause)
X49 Accidental poisoning by and exposure to other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances (where T62 or T64 is the secondary cause)
X69 Intentional self-poisoning by and exposure to other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances (where T62 or T64 is the secondary cause)
Y19 Poisoning by and exposure to other and unspecified chemicals and noxious substances, undetermined intent (where T62 or T64 is the secondary cause)

Would you like to ask a question like this yourself? Use our Freedom of Information site.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 25 January 2012, c266W)

Annotations

I think we are not doing enough to highlight how dangerous food is, and all the potential food sources that kill. A death rate of 1 in 1,714,285 is unacceptable in a modern democracy and advice for people to cook properly is manifestly failing to stop the lethal food poisoning epidemic.

Member

dieseltaylor, I’m not sure what this is meant to demonstrate. If it includes death from self-prepared food that may have been badly prepared, badly kept, well past its sell by date, rather than only due to food contaminated when supplied by a retailer, then I do not know what it tells us.

Member

I think perhaps it shows that when Which claims “lethal levels of bacteria” they may be overegging the dangers for effect rather than informing the public in a responsible manner as to the number of deaths FROM ALL CAUSES of food poisoning.

The number of days lost to illness caused by foood poisoning as compared to novirus, flu etc is of course more interesting data.

As a general rule when someone tries to get me to sign up for somthing by providing emotional wording and idealised outcomes with out any practicalities mentioned I :
Ask for the Evidence : )

as it stands it rather seems we need to fend for ourselves in trying to get facts. I wonder if Which? has a policy paper?

Member

Dieseltaylor – According to the Food Standards Agency, campylobacter is believed to be responsible for about 280,000 cases of food poisoning in the UK each year, with 72,000 confirmed cases, and it is estimated that there are 100 deaths per year caused by campylobacter.

The problem is sufficiently bad for the public to be advised not to wash chicken to avoid cross contamination.

I do not believe that Which? is acting irresponsibly at all. I would like Which? staff to appear on TV to raise awareness of food poisoning in a way that raises public concern but not panic. Perhaps if sale of chicken is halved, we might see some prompt action to address the problem.

Member

I am interested to see that the FSA believes, and estimates, and wonder WC did you see any links to source material. Do not get me wrong I do believe in good food hygiene and the figures are probably good. It is a matter of context .

I have been taking more than a passing interest in Norovirus where in some years in the UK over a million people are affected and an extimated 80 people over the age of 65 die from it. The total for the whole population may have been interesting – and I have a suspicion that the 100 est. deaths quoted by the FSA may be also age loaded.

I am one of those people, and I think the early Consumers’ Association member were , of the type that were keen to be able to analyse the data. You may recall when the campaign to bash the energy companies was at its height that nobody appeared to be interested in the fact that the UK was in the lowest quartile for both gas and electricity prices per unit..

If you have ever read the “Economist” one feels that the data and thought in the article is always pretty rigorous and I find that comforting.

Member

Dieseltaylor – I very much understand your concerns. I worked in science, where it was normal practice to justify statements in reports, papers and reviews with references to the source of the information. The figures I quoted above are from the Food Standards Agency’s website and I have made a couple of guarded statements: ‘believed to be responsible’ and ‘estimated that’. I expect that some of the newspaper articles about the campylobacter problem will have used the figures without qualification. [To support this, I’ve had a look at the Mail website and seen this in a headline: “Official watchdog’s cookery advice over bug that hits 500,000 Britons a year and kills 100” 🙁

It is very difficult to be certain about the cause of death, when various factors could be involved. As you say, age could be an important factor. Some hospital deaths are of elderly patients who have been infected with MRSA during their stay, but MRSA may not be mentioned on the death certificate.

I have found no information to support the FSA figures or to provide evidence that monitoring is done in a proper scientific manner. Hopefully those looking at ways of tackling the problem are provided with the data. I’m disappointed that the FSA has not responded to me when I contacted them about the campylobacter issue, several months ago.

Though I’m like you and would like to look at data and interpret it for myself, there is the danger that others could misuse the data to make false claims. You only need to have a look at how science is misused, which is why we have the ‘Ask for Evidence’ campaign that we have been discussing.

Member

Point of View

Thanksgiving dinner’s sad and thankless

Christmas dinner’s dark and blue

When you stop and try to see it

From the turkey’s point of view.

Sunday dinner isn’t sunny

Easter feasts are just bad luck

When you see it from the viewpoint

Of a chicken or a duck.

Oh how I once loved tuna salad

Pork and lobsters, lamb chops too

‘Til I stopped and looked at dinner

From the dinner’s point of view.

Shel Silverstein

Life is Cheep?: Viva! investigates Britain’s chicken factories
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53sY_IqslQA

Member

The Co-op is to sell chickens in oven-ready bags to help protect the public from the risk of handling the raw meat: http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/buying-and-supplying/co-op-to-make-all-its-whole-chickens-roast-in-bag/373711.article

I expect that other retailers will do the same, but hopefully this will not diminish the effort to tackle the campylobacter problem at source.

Member

I think we can get paranoid about handling meat – and if we are not careful we can exacerbate this with headline-grabbing campaigns. “Potentially lethal” might be accurate, but so is driving a car or travelling by plane. Facts, properly presented, should be the basis on which we can reach judgements – otherwise we might simply stop eating poultry altogether.

We regularly cook a “bagged” chicken from M&S – not for safety but because it tastes good.

Eleanor in the intro wants polythene gloves to handle chicken. If that feels more comfortable they are readily available; just type “polythene gloves food handling” in Google and a number of suppliers wil appear.

I’m still waiting to see if there is any difference between retailers in levels of campylobacter – I hope they list them by name. Just as important is to know where they source them from as well.

Member

I agree that we should not be paranoid. I still wash chicken, but take care to avoid cross contamination. As most of us are aware it is possible to do things that are potentially dangerous in a safe way. It’s all about risk assessment and taking appropriate measures. I’m not advocating that others should wash their chicken.

I would be interested to know if supermarkets tend to use the same supplier or switch according to what is available and the price, in the same way that a model of computer might contain a hard drive from various different manufacturers.

Member

First the Co-op and now Marks and Spencer bagging their chicken to protect us from touching the meat: http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/buying-and-supplying/ms-rolling-out-action-plan-to-combat-campylobacter/373837.article

Who will be the first to mark their packaging ‘Biohazard – do not open’.

Member

Very funny WC – gave me a laugh!!!

Of course the next scare will be increasing food costs for the poorly paid ..

Details here and presumably the same as for Co-op who use the same supplier:

The five-point action plan in detail
The five-point M&S action plan has been implemented with 2 Sisters Food Group since the end of September and will be rolled out to the remainder of the M&S supply chain by the end of the year.
Zero thinning
M&S farmers that supply to 2 Sisters Food Group have stopped part-harvesting chickens from flocks through the growing cycle, known in the industry as operating a ‘zero thinning’ policy. This minimises stress, protects the flock’s integrity and improves animal health and welfare. It reduces stress levels amongst chickens and, in turn, levels of campylobacter. This will be rolled out to all M&S farms by the end of the year.
Rapid surface chilling
New technology is in place at 2 Sisters Food Group that rapidly chills whole chickens as they are processed. This reduces campylobacter levels on food production sites.
Front of pack labelling
Front of pack labelling on all M&S whole chickens is now even clearer. They now carry a large, front-of-pack label that says “Washed and Ready to Cook”. This is in addition to back-of-pack food hygiene information and cooking times.
Double bagging
85% of M&S whole chickens are now ‘double bagged’ which means the chicken can be placed straight into the oven in a bag. The customer doesn’t need to unwrap the product pre-cooking, reducing the risk of cross-contamination in the kitchen.
Farmer bonus scheme
M&S has introduced a bonus scheme for farmers that supply to 2 Sisters Food Group which offers farmers a bonus if they produce campylobacter-free farms. This is in addition to the ongoing M&S incentive programme for high standards of animal welfare on farms.

Member

It’s good to hear of such action. There is more at http://www.2sfg.com/about-us/how-we-work/campylobacter/. It will be interesting to see if FSA data shows the performance, by name, of both supermarkets and their suppliers. I wonder if all the three supermarkets mentioned – Co-op, M&S and Tesco source all their chicken from one source. What about chicken pieces and the “value” products?
I suppose it all starts at the chicken coop?

Member

wavechange wrote: “Who will be the first to mark their packaging ‘Biohazard – do not open’. ”

Quote of the week, I think?

Member

dieseltaylor wrote:
“Double bagging
85% of M&S whole chickens are now ‘double bagged’ which means the chicken can be placed straight into the oven in a bag. “.

I have never been comfortable with heating a plastic bag (or tray) in an oven.
I have a primal fear that ‘something’ in the plastic will leach into my food.
One of those ‘something’s had the tasty name of “phthalates”, but the food industry now assures us they are phthalate-free.
I am not re-assured.

Member

Bib1 – The safety of our food is very much in the hands of the producers and there is little we can do as individuals to check for dangers. I rarely buy food in plastic containers that can be put in the microwave. If I do, I transfer the contents into another container such as a glass casserole dish.

Plastic is a great way of wrapping cheese to prevent contamination, but if the wrong plastic is used to wrap fatty foods, plasticisers can migrate to the food.

I’m not reassured either, but when a government agency tells me that it’s not safe to wash chicken, I am concerned, and we should have taken action long ago.

Member

Many of the supermarkets and various other companies use the 2 Sisters Food Group to supply chicken. The information provided on their website is very positive:

“2 Sisters Food Group is doing more than any other food processor or retailer in leading the fight against campylobacter.

In 2013, we launched the UK’s largest study aimed at helping the poultry industry reduce campylobacter levels in chickens.

Working in conjunction with the FSA (Food Standards Agency), DEFRA and a number of our retail customers, 2 Sisters’ objective is to ensure the study will generate robust data to make a significant contribution in tackling campylobacter throughout the industry.”

That seems very positive, but the company has come in for some criticism. Here, for example, is a report published several months ago: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/23/-sp-revealed-dirty-secret-uk-poultry-industry-chicken-campylobacter

Member

The 2 Sisters criticism arose last July, among other suppliers. Why have we not heard more about the basis of the Guardian’s investigation?

The FSA say “The FSA will name retailers, alongside campylobacter levels, when it releases its next set of results in November.” I’m looking forward (perhaps not!) to seeing how the main retailers comparer. I wonder, though, how you deal with the many other outlets for fresh and cooked chicken. So we also need to know how different distributors / processors compare to at least see whether there are good suppliers and bad suppliers.

We were in M&S today and saw their double-bagged whole chickens with good basic instructions on the label. The outer bag is removed before cooking. We’ve had their cook-in-bag barbecue chicken before and the method works very well.

Member

I have my reservations about anything reported in the press, but any serious concerns should be fully investigated and appropriate action taken. Without further information, it may be that the companies involved have just been told to clean up their act. We don’t know if similar companies are better or worse. Rightly or wrongly, it concerns me that so many retailers are sourcing their chicken from the same supplier.

I cannot say that I would be happy to pop a chicken straight in the oven without a good inspection inside and out for foreign objects, high risk material such as the remains of intestines, or evidence of disease. I once found a bag of giblets in a bird that was sold without giblets.

We will have some interesting information to chew over in the next week.

Member

wavechange: “We will have some interesting information to chew over in the next week ….”.

Are you planning on washing it before you chew it over?

Member

Bib1 – Very probably, but let me do a risk assessment. 🙂

Member

Excellent work by the Guardian. I hope they get all the credit they are due for loading and priming the “gun”.

It is always interesting to find out who does original investigation/research that results in Govt. bodies reacting to being put on the spot.

Member

Here is a more recent article by the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/18/chicken-uk-campylobacter-contaminated-fresh-supermarkets-fsa-freeze

It is interesting to read:

“However, Richard Griffiths, the director of food policy at the council, admitted that even if birds test positive, the chickens are still sold by supermarkets.

Unlike salmonella, another common food poisoning bacteria found in chicken, there is no legislation to prevent meat contaminated with campylobacter from being sold to the public.”

Member

This link is to the FSA’s strategy. It is only looking at the major retailers – Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Waitrose, M&S, Co-op and Morrisons. Do Lidl and Aldi not sell fresh chicken?

It seems a pity they are not checking the UK processors / distributors.

https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/fsa140903a.pdf

Member

Slightly off-topic but very interesting news story about chickens being good for us.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/11198410/Chickens-helping-the-elderly-tackle-loneliness.html

Member

It may be comforting for those who have recovered from a campylobacter infection to know that they may have immunity against future infections.

I wonder if those chickens/hens that are kept as pets and well looked after are carriers of campylobacter, or if this is a consequence of intensive rearing.

Member

My parents during their retirement kept chickens and my mother had a particular pet favourite and so named it Godfrey. One day she went into the garden to pay her respects and shock horror no Godfrey! My father never admitted responsibility for Godfreys demise but I did establish they had chicken for dinner the day before it disappeared with no adverse effects such as campylobacter! Needless to say Godfrey was never seen again. I never established whether Godfrey was the only option for dinner that day or whether it was receiving more attention than my father but I suspect the latter was more likely to be the case.

After reading the reports on campylobacter I would never cook any bird without a meat thermometer as an added precaution. I usually give it a wipe over with kitchen paper soaked in cider vinigar, smother it in honey and herbs before cooking.

Member

Apparently dogs and cats can also carry campylobacter, but are unaffected by it. They can pass it on to humans. What do we do about them (the pets)?

Member

I missed this recent short press release by Which?

“‘Complete cop out to try to put responsibility on consumers’ – our response to campylobacter tests
18 November 2014
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:
“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 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.”

Of course Richard needs an invitation to appear on TV to spread the word.

Member

Of course it is a “complete cop out” so let’s bury our heads in the sand. Whilst there is campylobacter around we should be educating people in how to deal with it. There are other kitchen hygeine issues we should also observe – cooking pork properly for example, not using the same utensils for raw and cooked meats etc.
I’d be more for less headlineworthy quotes, and more for showing how to take precautions, and how to eradicate it in the first place. Is eradication that easy?

Member

As pets can be a source it appears they need to eradicated – I suspect though that as this may prove unpopular it has not been mentioned by the authorities. I wonder how many of the 100 [estimated] deaths may actually be caused by the elderly with their pets?

Member

If the statement was misleading like much of the advertising we read I would agree with you, Malcolm. I don’t believe it is misleading. The producers are failing to tackle a serious problem despite pressure to improve standards. Of course we should teach good hygiene in the home, but that’s a separate issue. When trying to make an impact you should always focus on the message you want to get across.

I’m more than happy with their recent contribution regarding the campylobacter problem. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that Which? is not seeking an outright ban on unsolicited phone calls.

Member

There was nothing misleading – it is just the demonising approach that wrankles with me. Whilst we have campylobacter we should be advised / educated in taking precautions to deal with it until it is eradicated – if that is possible. We need a positive attitude towards a solution, not simply slagging the retailers off.

It will be interesting to see if there is any distinction between the retailers an levels, but I think it more important to look at the producers where it all starts.

Member

Dieseltaylor – Although we have been told that poultry is the main reason for cases of campylobacter infections, it would be interesting to know if pets are a significant cause of infections in humans. We could do with some data! The pet leaflet you provided a link for mentions treatment of humans with antibiotics. To the best of my knowledge, infections are normally self-limiting.

Malcolm – My view is that we should be looking at the producers rather than retailers – as I have already posted. If it is known in the industry that producer X is consistently better than producer Y, then a retailer might deserve criticism for staying with the poor quality supplier. We will have information about the supermarkets soon, but unless there are some pleasant surprises I’m not planning to eat much chicken in the near future.

Member

I have been looking for information about the possibility of tackling the campylobacter problem by vaccination of chickens and humans.

A vaccine against one of the two strains of campylobacter responsible for infections has been approved in the US: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/05/campylobacter-vaccine-in-human-trials/#.VHIkT0tGs-O

Development of a vaccine for the animals is at an earlier stage: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3145176/

Vaccination could be particularly useful for those who work in the factories that process chicken.

Member

Sam, is Which? pressing the FSA to examine the producers’ and distributors’ roles in this – more important perhaps than the retailers. How is imported chicken controlled?

Member

Hi malcolm, we want to see everyone involved in producing and selling chickens acting immediately to make chicken safe. The FSA need to make it clear to the industry (including supermarkets and producers) that these levels of campylobacter are no longer acceptable and set out the actions that need to be taken to bring levels down. We want to see what action they will individually and collectively take.

On imported chicken I’ll check in with our food expert and let you know.

Member

Hello malcolm, I’ve got an answer for you on how imported chicken is controlled: All poultry whether UK produced or imported has to comply with EU hygiene rules for how it is produced and Member States have to enforce this. Unlike salmonella, there are no specific limits set for the amount of campylobacter in fresh poultry meat. The European Commission has been looking at whether additional controls are needed for campylobacter, but nothing has been proposed at EU-level yet.

Member

Sam, thanks for those two replies. It is worrying that the EU has not addressed this – I expect it may take beaurocratic years. Apparently pork also carries campylobacter (as well as pets and turkey). I don’t like the thought of pumping drugs into food – they end up in us. Since it is killed by proper cooking, do we need to educate the public better, but also check cooked-chicken outlets and threaten sanctions – temporary closure – if campylobacter is still present in what they sell (as well as perpetrating other dangerous practices?)

Member

It’s helpful that Sam has confirmed that there is no current limit for campylobacter in fresh poultry. With a substantial proportion of chicken contaminated with campylobacter, perhaps it is time to impose such a limit.

Traditional testing methods for campylobacter are slow, and rapid methods based on biosensors are still in development. Improved technology will help us to get to grips with the problem, but the industry should be acting now and funding investigation of how best to tackle campylobacter.

Member

Around 670,000 tonnes imported. Very interesting read.

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It certainly is interesting information. I would not have guessed that the UK is the largest producer of chicken meat in the EU (Fig. 3.3).

Member

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?

Member

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.

BON APPETIT

Member

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

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

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53sY_IqslQA

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.

Member

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

Member

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?

Member

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.
http://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/multimedia/pdfs/campylobacterstrategy.pdf

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.

Member

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.

Member

Sorry – for nosocomial read hospital-acquired

Member

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

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member
Matthew says:
26 November 2014

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=246kSlc3guY

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.

Member
Matthew says:
26 November 2014

Starchy foods (carbs) – Live Well – NHS Choices
http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/starchy-foods.aspx

Member
Matthew says:
26 November 2014

Landmark study in pdf here
http://www.ajcn.org/content/32/8/1703.long

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.

Member

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.