/ Food & Drink

Update: supermarkets must step up to the plate

Make chicken safe logo

Results are in and it would appear that, while some progress has been made, you are still at risk from Campylobacter food poisoning from supermarket chicken.

It’s coming up to Christmas and the not-so-subtle hints have been coming in thick and fast that I need some practice before the big day. I had it all planned out. Rosemary, lemon, one pot and one chicken – this Sunday, Jamie Oliver was going to guide me through a simple roast with a zesty twist.

So you can understand my disappointment when the latest Food Standards Agency (FSA) results on Campylobacter contamination came in today

Why does this matter?

Three in four chickens sold in supermarkets are still contaminated with the potentially lethal superbug.

Morrisons has topped the list with the highest levels of contamination, followed closely by consistently poor performer Asda.

Along with 34,000 supporters, Which? has called on all major UK supermarkets to publish CEO-endorsed farm-to-fork action plans to tackle Campylobacter. And since then, supermarkets have been given time to trial interventions and change processes to bring levels down.

But it hasn’t been good enough.

Cleaning up their acts

These results were the first test of the industry’s promises to improve levels but only two retailers have met the FSA’s target to reduce the highest levels of contamination to 7%.

More shockingly, the results of three retailers have worsened since the first survey.

But are we really surprised? Last month, Public Health England reported that the number of people infected by Campylobacter in England and Wales is rising.

So if supermarkets and suppliers have really been doing all they can, why is there not consistent improvement across the board?

This isn’t about which supermarket can top the leaderboard. This is about cleaning up their shelves and keeping their customers safe.

What’s next?

The FSA’s results prove that it is possible to meet their target and make chicken safer.

Some retailers have significantly reduced levels of Campylobacter, so the pressure is on the others to explain why they have missed these jointly agreed targets.

Would you expect more from your supermarket?

If this news hasn’t completely put you off chicken, here’s Jamie’s roast dinner recipe, and take a look at our tips on how to cook chicken safely.

But it might be worth checking out the FSA’s results before heading to the shops…!

Update: 14 March 2017

New figures from the Food Standard Agency (FSA) show a 17% decline in the number of lab reports of Campylobacter in supermarket chickens in 2016.

As part of an ongoing survey into the food-poisoning bug, a total of 1,492 fresh, shop-bought whole chickens were tested across supermarkets and other outlets, such as local butchers, between August and December 2016.

Overall, 7% of chickens tested positive within the highest band of contamination, down from 12% for the same period in 2015 and 20% in 2014.

Of the nine major retailers included in the survey, Sainsbury’s ranked the supermarket least likely to have contaminated chickens at the highest level, with 2.6% of its chicken samples testing positive for Campylobacter.

Alex Neill, our managing director of home services, said: ‘It is encouraging to see that overall levels of campylobacter in chickens are falling and that major retailers are meeting the FSA’s target.

‘However, there is no room for complacency, as the survey shows that over half of chickens are contaminated and that this can vary greatly depending on where consumers shop.’


I have mentioned in another Conversation that a friend was affected by Guillain-Barré syndrome – a rare complication that can happen after a campylobacter infection. It paralyses and can kill because the sufferer many not be able to breathe without intervention. She is still does not have full use of her hands and requires assistance with walking. This was as a result of eating in a restaurant about two years ago.

It is not just a case of cooking food properly and being careful about hygiene in the home.

I think anyone concerned about chicken should avoid eating it in restaurants and takeaways. I cannot foresee a time in the near future when it will be totally abolished, by its very nature, unless perhaps we adopt e.g. frozen, irradiated or chemically treated chicken only.

It’s not just a case of avoiding chicken, Malcolm. Cross contamination of cooked foods and foods that are eaten raw (e.g. salads) with juice from raw chicken presents a risk. Elderly people can be less careful and we have no control of how food is treated when we eat out.

Campylobacter is the main cause of food poisoning. According to the Food Standards Agency: “Campylobacter is considered to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year. There are more than 72,000 laboratory confirmed cases of campylobacter poisoning (also known as campylobacteriosis) and a high proportion of these will be due to food.” I do hope that the efforts in the past couple of years will mean a reduction in these figures. Bear in mind there will be many mild cases of food poisoning that go unreported.

Chemical treatment is usually chlorine bleach or peroxyacetic acid. Chemical treatment is effective and used in the US but is not allowed in the EU at present. Chicken can legally be irradiated. I would prefer to see more pressure on the industry to continue to make improvements rather than go down the road of using chemicals or irradiation.

I do understand the cross contamination issue and I, too, would not like to only be presented with artificially-treated chicken. I was simply pointing out what I think are the problems involved in getting campylobacter-free chicken.

I do not know whether pressure is lacking on the major producers or a lack of proven effective “interventions” in what is acknowledged as a difficult problem to combat. I mentioned “trials” because that is what a range of interventions were being put through to see which worked best. Until we have an effective armoury we will be unable to tackle the problem totally – my reading of the situation. If any major producers / retailers are avoiding necessary precautions maybe someone will tell us.

Campylobacter is far more likely to cause a problem if present in large numbers. I have explained the concept of ‘infective dose’ in other Conversations. Eliminating campylobacter is unlikely but achieving a substantial reduction should be sufficient to greatly reduce the risk of food poisoning. It’s best to focus on the number of highly contaminated samples rather than the larger number where lower level contamination is found.

My understanding is that campylobacter is mainly present on the surface of the meat, as a result of faecal contamination. I believe that better standards in growing and processing are still needed.

We have been told that neck skin is now removed during processing, which is an improvement but it means that test results are not directly comparable with the earlier tests.

The FSA said last year that they had changed their test method, and so current results would not be directly comparable with previous ones. For the Jan-Mar ’16 results the FSA said:
“One of the reasons the survey results are lower this quarter is because of the decision taken by a number of retailers and their suppliers to remove neck skin from the bird before it goes on sale. The neck skin is the most contaminated part of the chicken. However, it is also the part of the bird that we have been testing in our survey and this means that comparisons with previous results are not as reliable as we would like.”

That’s it, Malcolm. It makes sense to remove material that is likely to be heavily contaminated and no-one is going to eat.

“It’s coming up to Christmas”? Just how long have I been asleep?

I was wondering the same 🙂

This is the problem with adding an update to an existing Conversation without reviewing or editing the preamble. I suppose there is never a time [except on 25 December itself] when it isn’t “coming up to Christmas” but we’ve had two Christmases since that was written.

The original Conversation started on or before 19 November 2015 but has been redated to 14 March 2017. Bit naughty perhaps.

The FSA has just published (18th Oct) the latest results for campylobacter, showing yet another general reduction. “The full year’s results show that on average, across the entire market, 6.5% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination, (over 1,000 colony forming units per gram – cfu/g). This is down from 19.7% in 2014/15 when the survey began.


I have no confidence in the poultry industry. The 2 Sisters Food Group was reported by a whistleblower several years ago and recently it was in the news again. This article and video show some serious problems: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/03/2-sisters-west-bromwich-chicken-plant-food-group

Why are major retailers still using this company?

“M&S, Aldi and Lidl suspend buying from chicken plant“. Production has ceased, so no doubt other supermarkets will source elsewhere.
The FSA are investigating https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2017/16580/update-on-fsa-investigation-into-2-sisters-food-group. It was reported that “The Food Standards Agency – which had conducted nine audits at the site, five of which were unannounced, in the months of July and August – also announced its own investigation. It has not found any breaches and has urged “anyone with information for this investigation” to make contact.“. At the time the Guardian and ITV had not responded to the FSA’s request to hand over material to assist their investigation. I hope they now have.

Concerned people, including employees, can contact their local authority with any concerns. They work with the FSA. Do people do this?

An interesting thing about campylobacter was that while the major retailers have substantially reduced it, independent shops are around 3 times as contaminated. Worrying.

From memory, the 2 Sisters Food Group has a dozen sites in the UK but I could not establish how many are processing plants. It might be that standards are better in the other plants but we have no way of knowing. We don’t even know if the suspension remains in force or has been lifted.

I don’t think we can assume that employees and anyone else with knowledge of poor practices can be relied on to report them. It’s well documented that people in semi-skilled jobs are often concerned that they could lose their jobs or be victimised if they complain. It would take even more courage to be a whistleblower.

If I ran a supermarket I would be tempted to have people apply for jobs in the processing industry to get a true insight into standards. I’m not sure about the legality of doing this.

The FSAs job is to conduct inspections. Perhaps they are not sufficiently well funded (by us?). Or perhaps this incident is not what it seems. We won’t know until the investigation is concluded.

Whistleblowers can be a problem as they may be doing so out of spite, but I would encourage their use. They should be able to report problems in confidence, so no victimisation. Should their report be credible, or supported by others, then that should be sufficient to prompt investigatory action.

The government’s intention is to move towards self-regulation. I had a long discussion with a couple of environmental health officers earlier in the year and one of them suggested I read up on ‘Regulating our Future’: https://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/regulation/regulating-our-future They were both very concerned about the danger of lower standards in practice.

You are right that whistleblowers can act out of spite and it would be easy to contrive to show someone changing the use by dates on packs. Placing someone inside the company to find out what is happening could help establish the truth. I have not heard of the FSA working in this way.

No problems – the Market will see that things run properly.
Why would suppliers want to make us ill by shifting dodgy food?

There have been cases of changing ‘use by’ dates in the past. I remember an investigation that discovered that small shops including those in garages were putting the contents of sandwiches in fresh bread rather than disposing of them. At present, we don’t know if the Guardian report is factually correct or fabricated, but there is certainly a financial incentive to change dates on packaging rather than dispose of food.

The government does not have money to pay for necessary things it sends it all to overseas countries which do not really need it just to raise it’s standing in a worded which does not car an iota about Britain they only care about themselves Care for nobody but yourself that’s the way things have gone everwhere

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Many years ago I had holiday jobs with a neighbour who ran a small wholesale food business. He had an egg-packers licence and used to collect them from farms, check them and pack them in trays in large cartons. The cartons were dated. If they ran out of date he simply reboxed them with a new date.

However, i agree in general JKK. Retailers with a reputation to uphold would be expected to deal with equally reputable suppliers, and perform unannounced inspections to ensure they were performing correctly. We might blame the companies, but I wonder what level of staff might decide to cover up their deficiencies by fiddling the goods in some way?

Now that the Which? campaign on campylobacter has ended we don’t read much in the press about campylobacter. The most recent data for quarterly tests carried out on behalf of supermarkets is on the Food Standards Agency’s website: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts/news/campylobacter-levels-remain-steady From the links provided I have compiled this list for the percentage of heavily contaminated (>1000 cfg/g) samples in the tests carried out in the first quarter of 2018:

Aldi 5.3
Asda 7.9
Co-op ZERO (same as last quarter 2017)
Lidl 2
Marks and Spencer 5
Morrisons ZERO
Sainsbury’s 5.8
Tesco 3
Waitrose 3

I don’t have complete confidence in supermarkets arranging their own tests even if these are done independently. As far as I am aware, Which? still buys all the products it has tested for product reviews rather than asking retailers to do this job and report their findings – a far more professional approach.

A couple of years ago I was warned by a senior environmental health officer working for a city council of the forthcoming initiative ‘Regulating our future’, in which larger businesses would be responsible for self-policing food safety.

At present we have most of our supermarkets knowingly selling chicken that could make any of us sick if we accidentally contaminated cooked food or salad with meat juices or this happens in a restaurant, for example. Likewise, undercooked chicken. The last time I went to a barbecue my friend’s son who was acting as chef as using a temperature probe to check that food was properly cooked but that’s probably an exception.

supermarkets knowingly selling chicken that could make any of us sick ” . This is a misrepresentation of the situation. All chicken has a degree of campylobacter – a naturally occurring organism that has been around in poultry and other meats for ever. Whatever the source – supermarket, small shops (much less well controlled) fast food outlets, restaurants. We know it is there and we know how to deal with it – cook the meat properly and, in common with all raw meat, keep it from contaminating other foods and work surfaces (for example). Supermarkets have made great strides in reducing the incidence of the most serious levels – about 25% of what they were just a year or two ago through many intervention trials.

A pity to keep incessantly denigrating the improvements being made, unless there is some magic cure that everyone in the business is deliberately avoiding. If so, it should be made public. That is my (slightly irritated) view. I hope there may be more positive contributions to this debate

Your criticism is not warranted, Malcolm, because what I have posted is factually correct.

If the figures are to be believed – and I would like to see verification by testing carried out on behalf of the Food Standards Agency – then some retailers are doing better than others. I intend to carry on making constructive criticism.

Here is a short review on the campylobacteriosis and the role of poultry meat. As it points out, poultry farming contributes to other sources of campylobacter infection: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1198743X15010253#bib6

As I said, that was my slightly irritated view and you are fully entitled to disagree with it, but that does not make it unwarranted (which is your view).

I often question what Convos are for, and they clearly serve a number of purposes. One seems to be to allow people to complain, let off steam, tell us how bad things are. Fine. Another, I hope, is to look at a topic and, maybe as well as showing the negative side, show how a problem could be improved by adding constructive suggestions, useful information, for example.

So, we have a number of fairly successful “interventions” that have improved the incidence of campylobacter in supermarket chicken. Now we should be looking at how to improve the situation from independent shops, identified by the FSA as lagging well behind.

We should also consider what more can be done to improve the incidence of campylobacter still further. Has anyone got the knowledge and experience to show what additional treatments, precautions, or other cures might be available that can be sensibly introduced? My view is such information would help in the constructive progress of this Convo and might result in options being tried that so far have eluded the FSA.

We could, perhaps, also debate whether we should only have available on sale deep frozen poultry (I believe that is effective at destroying most of the bugs) or would we be happy to accept chicken being subjected to a chlorinated wash, which I believe also has some positive contribution to make?

I’m simply suggesting if anyone knows how to improve this problem it would be helpful to hear.

One option, for those really concerned, is simply not to eat poultry. Another is to see that it is properly cooked.

“supermarkets knowingly selling chicken that could make any of us sick” is factually correct.

When the supermarkets were heavily criticised over selling contaminated chicken that led to a flurry of activity, with the companies publicising what action they were taking and planned to take to reduce contamination levels. I believe we need strong, continued pressure if more is to be achieved.

The most effective solution is likely to be development of a vaccine to be used before the birds’ guts before their gut flora develops. That is something that the companies could collectively fund – maybe a small percentage of retail price – for the benefit of all, not least the consumer.

Most of the attention has been focused on whole chicken but we don’t know as much about campylobacter in chicken portions and other poultry. As I’ve said before I would have respect for any retailer that removed fresh chicken in favour of frozen chicken to bring us safer food. Of course it’s right to look to look at smaller retailers but that is no reason to divert attention from the main players.

It has been suggested that once we are out of Europe there will be pressure (mainly from the US) to introduce chemical treatment for chicken to reduce contamination. Germany in particular has been opposed to chlorine treatment.

Your comment is phrased as suggesting the supermarkets are deliberately making us sick, which is where I see the misrepresentation. They are packaging chicken to protect other foods, often in a cook-in bag to prevent cross contamination; they also give proper cooking instruction (in my experience) and they have the support in their endeavours of the FSA.

Have you researched the efficacy of vaccines and the practicality of their application to all flocks? Have you discussed this with the FSA and what was their reaction? As I have been encouraging, this is the type of positive contribution I would hope to see in this kind of Convo, developed by others who have knowledge in this field.

Have any other countries adopted vaccination and what has been the effect?

We had vaccination suggested for mad cow disease but instead opted for wholesale slaughter and destruction. I wonder why it was not adopted?

As I’ve explained in another Convo, vaccine development is under way but it is challenging and needs more funding, which should I believe come from the industry. Here is a non-technical article: https://www.poultryworld.net/Health/Articles/2018/3/Vaccine-protocol-developed-against-Campylobacter-jejuni-262881E/

Has the FSA asked the industry to fund it? The industry, I believe, has been funding the current interventions that have lead to a 75% reduction in the worst contamination.

I would certainly support such work, but it does sound as though the suggestion of a vaccine will not provide quick results, so I hope the expansion of those interventions so far proven successful, will continue. We also need proper policing of the slaughtering and preparation facilities, If we don’t put resources into inspection of premises then we could well slip however hard we try to improve processing.

As far as I’m aware, current research is funded by government (via the research councils) and the EU. Finding an effective vaccine remains an aim but if the industry put money into it the solution might come sooner.

My understanding is that the main factors extensive contamination of flocks during rearing and that even uncontaminated birds get heavily contaminated with faeces during processing and this is not fully removed in the washing process.

Should we be promoting the efforts made by the Co-op and Morrisons or questioning whether their results are reliable?

Controlling campylobacter infection
University of Liverpool
(but can’t see a date)
Campylobacter is the most common bacterial cause of diarrhoeal disease in the developed world and produces a major health and economic burden.

The causes of approximately half of human cases are unknown. Each year around 40% of cases occur during what is termed the “spring peak”. Although scientists around the world have spent more than 30 years investigating this bacterium many mysteries remain.

In our ‘Sources, Seasonality, Transmission and Control: Campylobacter and human behaviour in a changing environment (Enigma)’ study we are seeking to solve some of these puzzles. To do this we will be looking at the roles that environmental and food pathways and their interactions can play. We will also be investigating how human behaviour and human-environment interactions could influence exposure to organisms and risk of disease.

The ENIGMA project is led by Prof. Sarah O’Brien at the University of Liverpool and is a large £5 million collaborative programme of research taking place across the UK.

This research is funded by the Medical Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council and Food Standards Agency, through the Environmental & Social Ecology of Human Infectious Diseases Initiative (ESEI). Grant reference G1100799/1.

This is an example of research funded by four UK research councils and also the Food Standards Agency. Here are the people involved: http://www.enigmaproject.org.uk/people/

Going back to my question, do you think we should be promoting the efforts made by the Co-op and Morrisons or questioning whether their results are reliable?

I gave a link to, and an extract from, the Enigma project above.

I will leave it to the Food Standards Agency and the supermarkets to assess the test results that are presented, and to see what can be learned that can be generally applied by them all.

If you are suggesting the Co-op and Morrisons’ results are false then could you provide some evidence? Maybe you could ask them, r the FSA, how they have achieved better results than their competitors? Their competitors might be asking themselves the same question.

Off topic, but we could ask similar questions of a number of universities. How have the awards of 1st class degrees from 54 institutions doubled and tripled in proportion since 2010?

I have not said or even implied that there is a problem with the Co-op or Morrisons data but we have seen a fair amount of variation in figures reported over the past few years.

Earlier in this Convo you said: “FSA show Morrisons heavily contaminated chicken as 25.7%. Morrisons “independently accredited laboratory” tests give 5.6% based, they say, on a much larger sample size for the quarter in question.

I think the retailers and FSA need to look at all their results to be confident who (if anyone!) is correct, particularly when on fairly small samples (FSA) over a short time period judgements will be made, particularly in the press. Retailers seem to be all attempting to make improvements and work with FSA. I hope that no-one feels unable to air their views in public. We all want confidence in the results. I believe Morrisons are investigating the disparity with the FSA. Hopefully the outcome will be made known.”

We are both uncertain how reliable results are, and I don’t think it is nice to be challenged to provide evidence for wondering if evidence is reliable. We were told that the FSA would be continuing to carry out tests but that was before the Regulating Our Future initiative had been made public.

Asking me whether I thought the results were reliable simply suggested you lacked confidence. I wondered what you based that on, if that were so. I cannot comment on their authenticity but presume, as the FSA set the methodology for supermarkets to test for themselves, generally on bigger sample sizes than the FSA could test, that they would also monitor them. A good way of getting more extensive data in my view.

I originally made the comment because I prefer to praise achievement where appropriate. Subsequently I noticed that you had picked up on the variation in data for chicken from Morrisons. There is no reason that the FSA tests could not cover a large number of samples. Apart from collection of the samples from the carcases and packaging I assume the tests are automated as in hospital and food laboratories.

Food Standards Agency information on campylobacter 15th June can be found here: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts/news/campylobacter-levels-remain-steady

Michael Wight, Director of Policy and Science at the Food Standards Agency said:

‘The latest figures are consistent with previous results and show we are consolidating on the significant progress made so far.

‘We will continue to actively work with retailers and smaller poultry businesses to further reduce campylobacter levels.

‘We would like to thank the major retailers and poultry producers for their efforts in tackling campylobacter and for working alongside the FSA to coordinate the publication of results.’.”

That was the link I gave above. I want to see progress and not the majority of retailers continuing to sell chicken that is dangerously contaminated with campylobacter.

And your solution is…..?

Firstly I would like to see proper independent testing. Rather than the retailers paying for this to be done on their behalf it would be better if selection of samples was anonymised and testing was carried out on behalf of the FSA and the results presented in a standard format on the FSA website, payed for by the companies involved. It’s not very clever to present the same sort of data in nine different ways, is it? If you are presenting contamination figures it’s important to state the number of replicates tested and provide some statistics showing the variation encountered in testing. As I said before, I would not be happy if Which? let retailers choose samples of products to test and results were reported in the magazine.

Secondly, I would like to go back to seeing widespread publication of campylobacter data, which I believe would encourage more effort to tackle the campylobacter problem. I hope that retailers with sustained good performance would boost their sales.

Might be good to seek the FSA’s views on this and report back. I’ve asked them about vaccines and current research and when I get a response I’ll pass it on.

This implies the supermarkets are not to be trusted in their test results. If it can be shown that any of them are cheating I’ll support removing the privilege of their data being used by the FSA. However I’d still expect supermarkets to carry out testing for their own benefit. In my experience of manufacturers laboratories they act with integrity.

All supermarkets are presenting bar charts showing they incidence of campylobacter >1000cfu/g as a %, and showing the FSA target (perhaps that should be 0%?). Perhaps the FSA have the full data, including sample sizes, standard deviations, and whatever else to support the results published. Maybe they should be asked?

It is specialised data that many people may not understand, nor be interested in, but as long as it is published by the FSA in an easily-accessible form I’ll be happy. No doubt Which? will keep tabs on it and produce press releases from time to time – hopefully positive ones if things continue to improve.

I’m sure when a university doing research says “Although scientists around the world have spent more than 30 years investigating this bacterium many mysteries remain” many will see this as an impartial statement on the difficulty in resolving the problem.

I am not making any allegations, but proper independent testing is the gold standard.

I have no problem with supermarkets carrying out their own tests for internal use and assume that they will do this anyway. What I want is proper independent testing of an adequate number of samples for publication of official results, with all the data presented in a single report.

Some of the challenges are presented in this document about an earlier research programme: https://bbsrc.ukri.org/documents/100717-campylobacter-strategy-pdf/

The FSA carried out independent testing initially and then decided to hand over ongoing testing to the supermarkets. I can only assume they had good reasons and confidence in making the change. Perhaps Which? could invite them to contribute? I think we have now made our views known 🙂

With all the Which? publicity of the issue I am surprised that the FSA has not made an input before now.

Perhaps they don’t see Convos as serious debates with a useful outcome, and/or they may not know of its existence- it has been largely inactive for the last 9 months. Perhaps if Which? were to publish a well-researched and impartial article in the mag with expert contribtions, the FSA would give their input.

I have not seen any indication that Which? has any expertise in microbiology in house, never mind an understanding of the campylobacter problem. Nevertheless they are fully aware of the fact that campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning, though I think the more serious complications have not been mentioned in any article. Now that campylobacter is no longer an active campaign topic the press releases have stopped even though the danger to the public remains. Following the original publication of supermarket test data, much of the publicity concerning campylobacter seems to have been maintained by Which? press releases.

I wonder then at the quality of their press releases and articles on this topic if they have “no expertise in microbiology”? Maybe they need to prepare these missives in conjunction with people who do know the topic.

I just want impartiality, expertise and balance (don’t we all?). A problem with “investigative journalists” is that without expertisie they probably cannot critically examine a problem (although they can generate good headlines that may, or may not, be appropriate).

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I vaguely recalled that the FSA had contributed to a Conversation and in fact Catherine Brown the chief exec of the Agency led a Convo, albeit with few responses: https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/make-chicken-safe-campylobacter-supermarket/

Catherine is no longer with the FSA. As this article says, it’s difficult task to run the Agency when adequate funding is not maintained.

I introduced a Convo https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/fsa-campylobacter-chicken-supermarket-q-and-a/ after asking the FSA directly for their views and responses to a number of questions.

I considered then, and now, that organisations who have knowledge of, and involvement in, a particular topic should be invited to join in if we want a fair, balanced and authoritative debate. I believe it should be the norm, not the exception. But, as duncan sensed above, I do not think Which? see this a role for Convos; chat rooms with, generally, no outcome.

I think it would be useful if Which? raised awareness of the fact that supermarkets and other retailers are still selling chicken contaminated by campylobacter and that some companies seem to be doing better than others. You want a balanced debate Malcolm, but you criticised my statement “supermarkets knowingly selling chicken that could make any of us sick” and have not provided any evidence to support your criticism.

I now believe that the Food Standards Agency is underfunded and I posted a link about this above. We have debated the problem of an underfunded Trading Standards in other Conversations.

My criticism was this was simply a rather inflammatory statement, in my view. Chicken is contaminated with campylobacter to some degree. We – many – know that. It has been for ever – it is nothing new. So, do you want supermarkets to stop selling chicken that carries this bacterium that everyone admits is extremely difficult to deal with?

Do you want to persuade people they should no longer buy chicken?

You neglect to mention the many other independent outlets that the FSA tell us sell chicken with far higher levels of campylobacter. So why only mention the (better performing) supermarkets?

You do not mention that the campylobacter bacterium is destroyed by proper cooking, a practise most people have done for years, with the supermarkets giving clear and correct handling and cooking instructions.

That is why I made the criticism. Not because it is not “factually correct”, but because of the accusatory tone.

Now I think we’ve bored people enough with this exchange. I suggest we move on to more constructive ways we might deal with the problem. I like chicken.

I have no problem with ‘inflammatory’ statements as long as they are the truth and do not seek to misrepresent the situation. My post was based on the recent publication from the Food Standards Agency and I provided this link: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts/news/campylobacter-levels-remain-steady I suggest you direct your criticism at the FSA.

Not all chickens carry campylobacter in their guts but I understand that uncontaminated birds can be contaminated by faeces during transport or processing and washing may not be effective, hence the high level of contamination of some birds. At least one retailer offers an incentive to keep flocks free from campylobacter but I have no idea how many flocks are free of contamination thanks to good biosecurity.

I’m pleased to see the focus on the high contamination band (>1000 cfu/g) because that represents a much greater risk of infection. I believe that I suggested that the FSA focused on these figures when I contacted them several years ago.

It is well established and documented that proper cooking destroys campylobacter so there is no point in mentioning this. I have however pointed out that those who don’t eat chicken are still at risk if meat juices contaminate cooked food and food eaten raw.

It might be a good idea if people avoided chicken until the problem of serious contamination has been addressed, but I don’t think this is going to happen. If you do want to eat chicken then the Co-op and Morrisons seem to be the best bet at the moment.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

It’s interesting to compare the US approach with that in the UK. At first glance, testing records only the number of samples showing contamination, whereas in the UK the focus is rightly on the most contaminated samples, which present a substantially greater risk of human infection.

I assume the US results focus on processors and possibly growers, whereas in this country we have focused on retailers. It is the responsibility of the retailer to sell food that is as safe as is practically possible, and it is up to them to choose their suppliers. I’ll have a look in the paper in Applied and Environmental Micro. I have one or more papers in that journal.

Edit: The paper is in fact a short review that lists and discusses our current understanding of the practical problems associated with keeping flocks of chickens free from campylobacter contamination. The work was funded by the Food Standards Agency.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Go to their new Beta site https://www.food.gov.uk/. This is headed “Food Standards Agency” and abbreviates to FSA. . The FCA is the Financial Conduct Authority and the PRA the Prudential Regulation Authority (see bankofengland). You are confusing what was the FSA (Financial Services Authority) with what is the FSA (Food Standards Agency)..

This comment was removed at the request of the user

All is very quiet in the world of campylobacter in chicken, according to the Food Standards Agency:

Campylobacter levels hold steady

Major retailers publish April – June 2018 campylobacter results for fresh shop-bought UK-produced chickens.
13 September 2018
The top nine retailers across the UK have today published their latest testing results on campylobacter contamination in UK-produced fresh whole chickens (covering samples tested from April to June 2018).

To say that the levels hold steady ignores the fact that the Co-op and Morrisons seem to be doing rather better than the other supermarkets. I would trust the figures more if one organisation collected samples from different shops and carried out all the tests. It’s what happens with Which? testing, I believe.

It’s reassuring to see good news, and that the interventions implemented so far are working. “The sampling and analyses are carried out in accordance with protocols laid down by the FSA and agreed by Industry.

What I think is far more important, now the major players have achieved good results, is to look at the large number of smaller outlets. “ We are continuing to sample fresh whole chickens sold at retail, however, the focus is now on the smaller retailers and the independent market.“. Many small family butchers may source their poultry from small farms where precautions may be antiquated. I would have thought, though, that more effort should also be directed at monitoring the suppliers / processors to the whole market .

It’s not very reassuring to me to see that some retailers seem to be doing better than others.

I have no problem with looking at other retailers and that is long overdue.

What is reassuring is that the >1000 cfu/g level is far lower than it was a year or two ago. So the interventions applied by all the major retailers and processors have been effective in reducing what is, we must remember, a naturally occurring and widespread bacterium. We have three spectacularly good results from Co-op, Lidl and Morrisons. However, it would be useful to be able to see the lower levels as well. But, based on this, if I were the FSA I would be looking at the source of the poultry – farm and processor – for these three to see what we can learn.

“We have three spectacularly good results from Co-op, Lidl and Morrisons.” Does this deserve promotion or investigation. I’d be inclined to do the latter first. Originally the FSA published three contamination bands and I’m glad to see that the the companies and the press moved from focusing on percentage of contaminated chicken to the percentage in the highest band (>1000 cfg/g), which represents the greatest risk to public health. Nevertheless, I would like to see figures for the lower bands too.

When the figures were appearing in the press there was more of an incentive for companies to do better than there is now.

I’ve maintained that it’s important to study contamination from production to processing since we started these discussions. Campylobacter does not normally cause tissue infection so we don’t know if farming methods are preventing colonisation of flocks or removing bugs on the carcasses (by washing off or killing).

We’ve shared the same basic approach I think. Credit where credit is due; great improvements have been made. The crucial thing is to cook chicken properly; that’s why I’d be wary of chicken from takeaways.

This discussion on campylobacter has gone very quiet.
The Food Standards Agency today references a report by Oxford University on the general topic that some may find interesting (I haven’t read it, only the summary).

Treena says:
27 July 2021

I am really interested in this subject, has anymore research been done in 2021 .