/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Supermarket Campylobacter results under the microscope

As you’ll be aware, we’ve been calling on the Food Standards Agency to publish the data that details the levels of Campylobacter per supermarket. Well, today they’ve done just that.

The FSA has published the results of its findings for the main supermarkets. Unfortunately Asda’s samples tested highest for levels of Campylobacter at 78%. This was followed by the Co-operative Food (73%), Morrisons (69%), Waitrose (69%), Sainsbury’s (69%), Marks and Spencer (67%) and Tesco (64%).  The full table of results is below:

FSA Campylobacter results per supermarket

In my last post a number of you asked what people can do to prevent food poisoning – so we’ve published some cooking with chicken tips on our site.

Others asked just how badly the food poisoning affects individuals. We’ve received thousands of comments on this through our petition and wanted to share some of the experiences people have taken the time to share with us.

Campylobacter case studies

A number of our supporters have really been knocked for six with the bug. Alan feels he’s never fully recovered from the food poisoning:

‘A few years ago I was admitted to hospital with severe Campylobacter and was in hospital for two weeks. I was severely very ill. An experience I do not want repeated. I was quite a stocky person & lost a lot of weight. I never regained the weight.’

Unfortunately Campylobacter hit the whole of Julie’s family:

‘Horrific incident when my young twins, small son and my husband and I all got Campylobacter from chicken cooked by my elderly mother in law.’

And Sandra told us:

‘I ended up in hospital with this as the doctor had to record my details to send to the health board to report my hospitalization. I was admitted for three days and had to go on a drip. I could only eat light meals when I came home and it wasn’t until another two months before I felt okay. If supermarkets aren’t following health rules when it comes to the food standards they should be held accountable for this as people such as the elderly have weak immune systems besides others. They are putting lives at risk.’

We want to see supermarkets not only publishing effective plans that tackle these scandalously high levels but also demonstrate they’re taking real action to make chicken safe. So, will today’s publication of the supermarkets’ levels of Campylobacter affect how and where you shop? And do you think supermarkets and poultry producers are doing enough?


Perhaps I’ll ad a little here
Many and I really many of the farmers are not in control of much of the events so I feel I have to stand up for the farmers here
There may be some that think that the farmer simply supplies the market in the same way as say beef but this commodity is far from the farmers control

These chicken/poultry farmers are often in a contract with the processors and are not in control of anything as such
This is nothing new to me as I sit in the midst of agri and probably because it is every day knowledge to me I somehow supposed it would or should be common knowledge to everyone which after re-reading Malcolms last post I realised is not the case

From the spec for the housing
To the building of the housing
To even the finance of the housing
From many if not every detail it is all under the control of the processors
The farmer simply gets his cut for rearing the birds
The laying of the eggs are by the processors
The incubation of the eggs are by the processors
The inspections are mostly by the processors
The feed is mostly supplied via a contract by the processors
The very LPG contract is mostly between the processors and the gas company

This is the norm around here and we here are a fair sized player in the supply of poultry products and I dont doubt that this is the norm for the rest of the UK

In my eyes and I’m no farmers friend it is not even remotely fair to hold many of these farmers to account for the feedstuffs, antibiotics or any other medicine given to these birds as many have no control over anything apart from hygiene and animal welfare both of which are at the demands and dictated by the processors

I’m sorry if that’s a little of a shock but this is fact and perhaps we better deal in facts

And now Tesco recalls butter for possibly containing a much worse thing that plastic or rubber
I would say that the pressure brought on suppliers/processors by the big supermarkets some much worse than others are the cause of much of these last few problems

Yes Wave you are correct about the amount of contaminated chicken on the shelves. . .I do have the answer as everyone does. . .
Cook all the chicken before it leaves the plant in the same way as some shellfish need cooked. . .
Could this be the place to do this as people dont seem capable of good house keeping. . .
Like most families we have had chicken most weeks for our married life and we have not fallen ill yet. . . My wife though it s*** hot on washing down everything poultry touches and was never off our daughters backs about this

Whilst chickens continue to walk around in each others excrement, I don’t see how it is possible to eradicate the campylobacter bacterium completely. The alternative is to resort to the heartless and ruthless practice of confining them to battery sheds where their droppings are allowed to fall into trays strategically placed underneath and removed when full. This may assist in reducing cross contamination but as campylobacter resides within the chickens gut it would not be a viable or humane solution.

Another alternative is to duplicate American methodology by air freezing and chlorination. Scientists there have recently been engaging in trials by adding chlorine to chicken feed, the results of which so far unfortunately, have proven inconclusive. Personally I always buy frozen chicken which doesn’t completely eradicate the bacterium but does reduce it so is a safer option.

If however people insist on consuming fresh 70% contaminated chicken then retailers and supermarkets, who are ultimately responsible, should attach warnings to all chicken sold on their premises, alerting consumers to the potential dangers of eating infected chicken and to make sure they follow the recommendations laid down by the FSA by not washing and by heating to a temperature of at least 178% during cooking, preferably using a meat thermometer inserted into the coolest part, usually the area nearest the groin.

I hope the scientific community will continue with their endeavours to reach a solution to this enduring problem. In the meantime, farmers and attentive bystanders will remain ever vigilant and hopeful that results will be forthcoming in the not too distant future.

Worth a look.
The campylobacter bacteria are present in the environment and found, for example, in rainwater puddles in the open that poultry may drink from.
For those more susceptible to infection, or those who feel strongly, then do not eat chicken (or other poultry or even “beef, offal and other meats”). For others, observe kitchen hygiene and proper cooking – there are many causes of food poisoning, other than campylobacter, that this will help prevent

According to the FSA, about 80% of cases of campylobacter are due to contaminated poultry. Putting pressure on the industry has achieved what appears to be significant improvements. In my view we should apply pressure for further improvements.

I don’t eat chicken but I want to save others from becoming sick.

Having not had any problems locally with this I had not paid any attention but i’ve been reading as I take my coffee and salmon sandwich
A normal person needs in excess of 10,000 organisms to be likely affected because the organism is sensitive/can be killed by hydrochloric/stomach acid so one needs to consume some of this. . . It is not enough to simply come in contact with it, , you must consume an amount beyond what your stomach will not kill
People with various stomach problems or who use antacids are more easily infected
According to what I’m reading about 1 in 140 people or 500,000 people in the UK fall foul to this every year
There a reported 100 deaths as a result which is lower than that of accidental car fires. .
The above numbers at the beginning of this Which topic are very probably correct but who knows what a “95% confidence factor” is. . .
Personally I dont like these type of things that arrive with all kinds of numbers, , terms and abbreviations that force those interested to look up simply to enable them to understand what should be simple
If we dont keep it simple many will simply stop reading an be off
Perhaps a little explanation with such a term might have helped or a secondary down to earth common man explanation
I can see no reason why the common or garden reader should have to look up such terminoligies
19% of chickens tested pos for the highest band of contamination
73% tested positive for the presence of contamination
0.1% of packaging tested positive for the highest band contamination
7% tested positive for the presence of contamination
I can understand those numbers a little better

I think we need to follow good practice first and foremost
This has been around for some time, , probably earlier than when it was first noted
It is not going away soon
Yes Beryl birds walking around in their own s**t is not good and the cage alternative was not generally used for broilers as was not successful for that but was used for layers but layers also have highish rates of the same bug so cages are not the answer either
Having our own birds we have seen a lot of habits in our time
We have never seen birds choose to eat excrement over food as yet. . . That would be dog, , horse, ,pig and so forth
Broilers have food and water available 24/7
If you take the time and watch “the chicken people” you will see the birds are not wading around in their own as was portrayed in many TV programmes. . . Yes there are and were bad farming practices but I hope as a result of better practice that for the most part that has or is disappearing. . . There will always be the neglectful though
Pig farming is another intensive very controlled and potentially problematic food source. . . I seldom eat pork because I would consider it to be a bigger long term chance in comparison to poultry

When I was at school girls (I’m not being sexist) took domestic science which taught them many things and my wife assures me hygiene was high very high on the to do list as such
She was taught never to mix raw meat of any kind and other foods on the same surface without first washing down the surface
Raw meats of any description were to be kept low in the fridge yet today we get what is termed a Veg drawer at the bottom of the fridge
We do not use it for veg, , this is bonkers
Without going into whether religious teaching are right or wrong, , , I dont like being preached at. . I do know however that several religions practice similar food hygiene advice as handed down apparently from God and those religions are very unlikely to be affected by this bug and that advice or for some absolute rules/laws has been around for several 1000s of years. .
Some will not even have raw meat in the same room as veg or cooked meat so someone somewhere many years ago knew more about these potential problems than us 21st century wise guys

I see Wave made mention of barbecue’s. . . We would never have tried barbecuing chicken in the first place unless as my wife demands it is “properly cooked” first and then one can give it the barbecue treatment as such
I have given off about burger/sausages not being cooked all the way through and many have not heard that minced processed meat needs to be cooked all the way through
I think we need a little educating

DK – You have given a figure of 10,000 organisms as the infective dose for campylobacter. I have not looked at the evidence but the usual figure quoted is around 500.

As you say, stomach acid is an important defence against campylobacter infection– and others. A significant proportion of the adult population is taking proton pump inhibitors or other drugs that suppress acid production. Acid production varies during the day and tends to decrease as we get older.

Courtesy of Wiki

Campylobacteriosis, a gastrointestinal infection caused by Campylobacter, is characterized by inflammatory, sometimes bloody diarrhea or dysentery syndrome, mostly including cramps, fever, and pain.[18][19] The most common routes of transmission are fecal-oral, ingestion of contaminated food or water, and the eating of raw meat. Foods implicated in campylobacteriosis include raw or under-cooked poultry, raw dairy products, and contaminated produce.[20] Campylobacter is sensitive to the stomach’s normal production of hydrochloric acid: as a result, the infectious dose is relatively high, and the bacteria rarely cause illness when a person is exposed to less 10,000 organisms.[3] Nevertheless, people taking antacid medication (e. g. people with gastritis or stomach ulcers) are at higher risk of contracting disease from a smaller amount of organisms, since this type of medication inhibits normal gastric acid. The infection is usually self-limiting and, in most cases, symptomatic treatment by liquid and electrolyte replacement is enough in human infections. The use of antibiotics, though, is controversial.[citation needed] Symptoms typically last five to seven days.[20]
The sites of tissue injury include the jejunum, the ileum, and the colon. Most strains of C jejuni produce a toxin (cytolethal distending toxin) that hinders the cells from dividing and activating the immune system. This helps the bacteria to evade the immune system and survive for a limited time in the cells. A cholera-like enterotoxin was once thought to be also made, but this appears not to be the case. The organism produces diffuse, bloody, edematous, and exudative enteritis. Although rarely has the infection been considered a cause of hemolytic uremic syndrome and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, no unequivocal case reports exist. In some cases, a Campylobacter infection can be the underlying cause of Guillain–Barré syndrome. Gastrointestinal perforation is a rare complication of ileal infection.[21]

The infective dose is quoted differently elsewhere on Wikipedia. For example, the entry for campylobacteriosis includes: “The infectious dose is 1000–10,000 bacteria (although ten to five hundred bacteria can be enough to infect humans).” The Wikipedia article on infectious dose gives: “Campylobacter jejuni: low (500 organisms)”. The most commonly used figure is 500 – which could be present in a drop of chicken juice.

We do know that campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning. As the Wikipedia article says a campylobacter infection can lead to Guillain–Barré syndrome, albeit rarely. Most mornings I watch a friend walk slowly past my house, gradually recovering from the paralyis caused by GBS. Hopefully she will get the use of her hands back, but that could take two years.

I dont/didnt disagree with you Wave, , I simply quoted the numbers I read and when you ask about them I went and got them for you
Yes we’d be better without the bug, , period, , end of, , but I dont think it will be anywhere near achievable
Just like us humans who many of whom are no longer affected positively by antibiotics it may be possible this part of the food chain has grown new and or resistant strains of things

I have watched the TV programme and wifey and I have visited our local plants and although I’m no expert I dont know what else they are to do to cut the bug out

As I’ve said before the wife’s brother in law has poultry houses and one could not fault them either

I am not looking for an argument/debate but I simply stated what I have seen with my own eye’s
I think there is possibly bad press around on this and yes there will be bad farmers but they are not near to me and we have loads of these houses nearby in almost every direction

I have sympathy for anyone affected by anything but just like air pollution something we are both interested in one also one has to take in the bigger picture and realise that there is most likely no quick fix
If you dont want to breath large doses of pollutants keep out of the towns and cities. . I dont have a lot of choice in that one

If we know the birds have this bug on/in them and cooking kills it then more emphasis has to be put on cooking not only at home but commercially I’d imagine especially small fast food outlets and restaurants

Again, , , I’m not looking for argument or debates. . From I first posted on this I done nothing but point to what I have seen
I am not defending the farming industry as such but living in the middle of it I cannot help but state what is obvious to me and my neighbours are good farmers
I cannot find and I’ll defy you to come around here and find birds wallowing in excrement. . .
The system simply does not encourage this and hasn’t for some time
Yes they stink me out with spreading s**t and I dont like it because I think that much of the spreading carries airborne hazards for me but Most folk like milk, ,beef, , turkey, , chicken and there is not much other way to grow it.
Once i get the whiff I’m in out of it to it passes
Yes the too large machines mess up our roads but I cannot change that and I’m not going to be a big enough p**** to try doing so
I am not a “not on my doorstep” kind of person. . .

Sorry – I should have thanked you, DK. Wikipedia is often a reliable source of information, but my last post illustrates an example of inconsistency.

Having worked with bacteria and other microorganisms, albeit harmless ones, I have an interest in how they can harm us and also the many ways that other bugs are beneficial and even essential to our survival.

I know very little about the industry but believe that with effort, we can cut the number of cases of campylobacter infection. It is fairly clear that the pressures on the retailers to cut contamination have shown some progress. As far as I am aware, none the ‘interventions’ now being used are new ideas, but it has taken external pressure to get them used in combination. I believe that we need to keep up the pressure. The only people I’m likely to argue with are those that play down what is a serious problem.

I believe that developments such as rapid identification of birds that carry campylobacter and effective vaccination of poultry could largely overcome the problem, but in the meantime we have to keep up the pressure to reduce contamination using a combination of ways we know to be effective.

Thanks Wave, ,
Yes perhaps vaccination may help. . I dont know where or how this bug came to rules the roost as such but there’s little doubt it is a problem of worrying size
Vaccinations seems to have been pretty good over time except of course when those who are liable avoid the vaccinations and the bugs get to become new versions
Certainly one close to my heart and family was Polio and we still have a couple of surviving victims locally but overall the Polio vaccination was brilliant
Vaccination could work really well because it suits the regimented production techniques employed in this intensive industry

The whole food production scene is worrying for many different reasons
Drugs, , pesticides, , herbicides, , intensity are all showing their Achilles heels as such and we’ve really only been doing these things or methods of farming a short time. . .
I do not know where we are going but I’d think the situation will not change much in the near future. . .
We now of course have a much more adverse climate to deal with and river/sea pollution is going off the scale yet we need more artificial fertiliser the prime cause of the problems to grow more food to feed the masses.

What I have in mind is vaccinating chickens and other poultry to prevent them becoming carriers of campylobacter bacteria. These don’t harm the birds, just as the huge number of bacteria in the bowels of healthy humans don’t harm us.

Vaccinating humans is certainly a possibility but like cleaning chicken carcasses with bleach to kill campylobacter (permitted in at least some US states), I hope we can avoid going down these routes.

I very much share your concerns about pesticides etc. 🙁

Yes I’d agree with vaccinating the birds, , not us unless it was becoming a very big problem. . .Maybe I worded the human bits wrong to lead to think I’d vaccinate humans. . .I was just thinking out loud and thought that many programmes on humans had been very successful but no not this one

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Duncan – Campylobacter is only harmful if you ingest the bacteria, so touching contaminated chicken is not a problem. After all, people work in factories processing large numbers of birds. I am not sure why the Food Standards Agency tests chicken packaging for contamination and guess that this could be an indicator of leakage of contaminated meat juices.

Chemical pesticides do not discriminate between their target and other forms of life, so it’s hardly surprising that they cause so many problems. It is much safer to use ‘biological control’, where the pest is targeted and humans are unaffected, much in the same way that antibiotics kill bacteria but are usually harmless to humans. Un fortunately, effective biological control agents can be difficult to produce whereas nasty chemical pesticides can be used until they are banned.

Duncan, , Even back then your aunt would have had the wit to wash her hands and utensils before moving on to cook the thing and it would have been cooked through and then some
Chicken even back then could have been problematic
We have out and out free range and I’d still not take any chances
Jersey Giants, ,A nice big breed with much more agreeable roosters than say Rhode Island reds

worth a look. campylobacter.org.uk/intro-to-campylobacter/

I could be right off the plot again but something/s comes to mind

Firstly I know I personally have a few reaction allergy type things but I can possible see reasons for those and like what I am about to write use or proximity could be the main reasons

I am just after reading about peanut allergies and that if children are in contact/consume peanuts from and early age the risks are much reduced. . They suggest to give children peanuts/peanut butter and this has a good chance of preventing the big nut reactions
Not entirely unlike an old aunt here who shoved everyone in contact with everyone when young to get everyone all the bugs that were going when we were young. . I missed out on chicken pox somehow but I had it in my 30s

My father is near to 88 and I kid thee not he could eat anything. . We have to watch his fridge like a hawk. . He’d eat stuff even if the smell would cope ye as we would say and not an effect

We are the same to a lessor degree obviously and apart from my reactors we are seldom sick
We are however very unlike most of you readers
We have free range eggs and occasionally free range chicken via the young roosters although the work V the cost saving is not good on either
We all get to let the hens out, , close them in, , lift the eggs so we are in contact with them up close
I cannot stand the dust in summer if they flap a load inside the house. . It’s as bad a coal smoke nearly to me
We also have never had mains/chemical water

For you Wave
Could these increased statistics on food poisoning be linked to remoteness of many humans over the past two/three or more generations from what was their natural surroundings
Many of us are never in contact with poultry and perhaps the bleached water with barely a living anything in it have combined to make many of us simply susceptible to many things we perhaps used to have a resistance to

Like you I’m reading slightly conflicting writings but one common theme is cooking for circa 70c or more for 2 minutes. . . I imagine this has been tried and tested many times in the lab and we can be fairly happy with those numbers
That is really not a big ask so for the bacteria if I’m naming it correctly to be killed really should not be a problem either. . Certainly when wifey cooks anything it is well cooked. . .
In later times we have grown a taste for steak cooked rare and such things as raw fish. . .
Could these habits be having an effect over older fashioned well drilled “cook everything well” teachings where it was seen as better save as sorry so we’ll leave it in the oven another ten minutes. . .
I cannot help but notice our children are no where near as careful as we would be

My wife does not fry steak she cremates it!!

There is a lot we don’t understand, DK. I have never understood how wild animals can eat rotting meat and survive, but they do. The well known ‘hygiene hypothesis’ suggests we are too clean and that causes problems, particularly the increase in allergies in recent years. Sadly, there is precious little evidence that supports the case for being less hygienic. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene/Pages/are-we-too-clean-for-our-own-good.aspx

But there is absolutely no need to wash hands with antibacterial hand-wash. It is no better than soap and water and exposes us to chemicals that may be harmful and are certainly damaging in our watercourses.

Just watched a Docu on cats and they said that animals were fit to eat rotting meat because the cats had stomach acid so strong

We enjoyed that programme as well DK; more good reasons not to eat cat meat. It showed nature red in tooth and claw except when it came to domestic cats catching birds; it was very coy about that and didn’t show the kill – just a flutter of dismembered pigeon feathers.

Who eats cat meat??
Are there people who will eat anything?
There are some things I dont make a habit of eating but there are others I would never consider and cats would be one I’d probably not wish to try

Given that animals are what they eat it’s probably best to avoid any carnivores. Thinking back to the BSE crisis it’s also dangerous to feed meat by-products to herbivores as they are not equipped to cope with it.

I agree, John. I have not seen any mention of chicken waste being fed to chickens but in an industry that focuses on the production of cheap meat, it does seem a possibility.

No, I don’t think that poultry have been fed with any animal material. Most, if not all, of their food is grain-based – not necessarily of the highest quality though.

One thing I noticed when working on a farm as a teenager was that chickens are very partial to an egg; if one drops on the ground and breaks open they scurry around and gobble it up.

There must be a certain amount of surplus chicken meat, skin, bone and other waste arising from the production of chicken fillets, breasts, wings, thighs, etc. It could potentially carry campylobacter. I wonder where it goes.

I would be interested to know if the programme is still available.

It was on ITV – it is available on-line via the ITV Hub.

Thanks John – I have watched it.

The ability of certain animals to eat rotten meat involves more than being able to avoid infection by bacteria and other microorganisms. They have to be able to deal with toxins produced by these bugs. Many of these toxins (including those produced by campylobacter) are destroyed by heat but some are heat-stable, which is why cooking food that has been kept too long does not necessarily make it safe to eat. Some bacteria form heat-stable spores which are known to withstand very harsh conditions. These include Clostridium botulinum, the cause of botulism. The toxin from this bacterium is the most toxic substance known. Here is an article from Nature, which explains that vultures can actually contain this extremely hazardous organism as part of its gut flora: http://www.nature.com/news/microbes-help-vultures-eat-rotting-meat-1.16345

Unfortunately humans don’t have these abilities to resist bacteria and if our salad is contaminated by a drop of raw chicken juice, we might become sick.

Would vaccinating poultry give them immunity from the effects of campylobacter and also prevent them from being carriers? The research seems somewhat inconclusive.

Poultry are generally unaffected by large numbers of campylobacter in their intestines. There are various approaches that have been tried to develop a vaccine to prevent accumulation of the bacteria, and I vaguely remember clinical trials in a Scandinavian country, but I believe we are some way off finding a solution.

As I understand it poultry and some other animals (including pets) are carriers of campylobacter, but are unaffected themselves. Unless vaccination substantially reduces the number of campylobacter in the carrier then I do not see how we benefit. But I don’t know the mechanism which is why I am asking the question. How will vaccination be effective? FSA seem dubious currently.

There are several articles that look promising but either they are not accessible to the public or only the abstracts are available. Looking at the small number of citations of these articles, it is not a popular research topic at present.

The logical solution would be for the poultry industry to club together to sponsor research at a research institute or university and share the benefits, but I doubt that this will happen.

The FSA list a number of research projects around campylobacter carried out, or in progress at, among others, universities of Liverpool, Nottingham, Cambridge, Bristol and Swansea.

The FSA website is a good starting point for anyone interested in how the problem is being tackled. Some research projects have government funding via BBSRC, one of the UK research councils. The main results and conclusions will be published, hopefully in journals that can be accessed by the general public.

The FSA does publish the results of sponsored research when completed, and a decent summary for the layperson . Just click on one of the studies on its website for this information.

I have to say I am impressed by the FSA. I have emailed them from time to time and generally had a quick and informative reply.

I caught a glimpse of an item on a TV programme about shopping some time last week [it didn’t burn in my memory] that showed the FSA in a very good light. The topic was the manufacturing origin of food sold under own-labels and other branding. Under recent regulations about the traceability of food, each tin or packet now carries a code which can be interrogated on the FSA website that shows who makes the product and where. This is a really good development in furthering our knowledge of the food chain.

I saw the same programme John. But why need a code, and have to track down the actual supplier on a website? Why not just put the producer on the packaging so we can immediately see who makes what we are thinking of buying.

I think that is the next logical step Malcolm. I just don’t think the retailers or the producers are ready for this degree of transparency yet; the retailers don’t want us to know where they source their sauces and the makers don’t want us to know that they also make either (a) second-grade products for big supermarket chains or (b) products superior to their own brands for discount traders. And where would it all end? . . . It would spread into consumer durables, clothing, toiletries, and so forth. Mustn’t let consumers have too much information!