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Supermarkets must publish their Campylobacter action plans

Which? Chicken Mascot

We have today written to the seven major supermarkets calling on them to make publicly available plans on how they will tackle Campylobacter, with clear timescales for action. Read our letter from Richard Lloyd:

Dear Chief executive,

It is now almost six weeks since the Food Standards Agency released data showing scandalously high levels of Campylobacter in chicken. Consumers need reassurance that supermarkets are taking this seriously and doing all they can to address the problem.

Nearly 30,000 people have signed up to support our campaign to ‘Make Chicken Safe’. Our latest research found six in ten consumers expressed concern about the high levels of Campylobacter found in supermarket chickens, with three-quarters saying they thought they were too high. More than half thought there wasn’t enough information available about Campylobacter levels in chicken.

While we welcome the progress made so far, we urge you to take a more visible and coordinated industry wide approach so that consumers can be confident that everything possible is being done to tackle this potentially fatal bug. We have previously been in touch with your teams and are calling for every major supermarket to publish a plan of action by the end of January and to make this publicly available and published on your website, with a timeframe for taking action.

The plan should be an integrated programme of both immediate and planned interventions along the food chain (from incentivising farmers to improve controls through to use of blast surface chilling, for example) targeted at reducing levels of Campylobacter as quickly as feasible.

We would like to secure your public support in showing consumers that you are committed to tackling this problem and look forward to hearing how you propose to take this matter forward.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Lloyd,  Executive Director


I have stopped taking PPI’s since this subject was raised Wavechange. I have substituted them with a ginger nut biscuit which settles my stomach by stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid (which depletes with age) and gives me extra protection hopefully from campylobacter infection and I am happy to report it works a treat. Needless to say I always cook any chicken thoroughly as well using a meat thermometer. Definitely one of the positives to emerge for me from Which? Conversation.

I’m glad to hear that you have restored your natural defences to bacteria, Beryl. 🙂 My interest in gastric acid stems from the unexpected discovery in the 1980s that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori was capable of surviving stomach acid and causing ulcers.

I wonder how many of those suffering from campylobacter infections are taking PPIs or earlier acid suppressants such as cimetidine and ranitidine.

One of the dangers of campylobacter infection is the rare but well established complication, Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Here is a recent case:

As a producer rather than retailer, Bernard Matthews escaped attention in the Food Standards Agency’s report on retailers. Nevertheless it will be using rapid surface chilling to decrease contamination of poultry:


Here is an insight into the campylobacter problem as seen by the food industry: http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Food-Safety/Supermarket-war-diverts-attention-from-campylobacter

I find the video very depressing, since it makes no mention of cleaning up the growing and processing industries, where the campylobacter problem arises.

The FSA has published the results for a full year. However I cannot see this broken down quarter by quarter to see if there are any trends in the different supermarkets. If action plans have been successfully implemented you would expect to see a downward trend so a years average is not all that helpful. If I’ve missed it perhaps someone could point the way.

M&S’s own website do publish results by month which, on the face of it, is more useful and shows improvement. However campylobacter is likely to be less in cold weather and higher in summer so I hope the FSA carry on testing to get a handle on this.

I am still disappointed that the chicken processors aren’t tested as well as the retailers. Many of the improvements and processing precautions are in their hands. They need strict and regular inspections – either by FSA and/or the retailers – to ensure good practice is maintained.

I did enjoy a nice roast chicken, chips peas and carrots last night and am pleased to still be with you.

On the other hand, every one of the supermarkets tested has failed to meet the target set by the Food Standards Agency for reducing campylobacter contamination. To quote from a BBC article published today: “Richard Lloyd, the executive director of consumer group Which?, said: “It beggars belief that nearly three-quarters of chickens on sale in supermarkets are still infected with this potentially deadly bug and that no retailers have met the FSA’s target.”

If we are going to single out one supermarket it should not be M&S but Tesco, which has continued to produce the lowest figures for high level contamination.

I very much agree that we should be looking at the processors because it is their high speed processing that seems to be spreading contamination. There is also scope for improvement at the farming stage. Simply giving these poor animals uncontaminated water to drink can help control the campylobacter problem.

This is an average over a year apparently, so does not seem to look at whether recent action plans have had any effect. If you look at M&S website their recent figures indicate they achieve half the FSA target. However we have had cold months that will no doubt reduce campylobacter naturally.
I have asked FSA whether they have data by supermarket by quarter, how winter affects data, whether they are going to continue sampling and whether they will sample and inspect the processors.

Although the FSA has not published campylobacter figures for Aldi, being one of the smaller supermarkets, it has announced that it is taking similar measures to the others to tackle the problem: https://corporate.aldi.co.uk/en/responsibility/consumers/our-action-on-campylobacter/

The Food Standards Agency has published the first results for the second year of tests on supermarket chicken: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/news/2015/14701/campylobacter-survey

The most important figure is “% skin samples over 1000 cfu/g campylobacter”, which gives an indication of heavy contamination. Waitrose and the Co-op have made significant progress.

I posted a link to the the Food Standards Agency’s most recent tests on campylobacter in supermarket chicken, but it hasn’t been approved yet. The press is picking up the story. Search for: “Fewer supermarket chickens have high levels of campylobacter bug”

Maybe Which? will launch a new Conversation to help raise awareness of the continuing threat that campylobacter poses to the nation’s health.

The latest informationposted by the FSA can be found on their website food.gov.uk and their first qtr report at food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/campylobacter-retail-survey-jul-sept-2015.pdf

I wrote to the FSA last year, criticising the presentation of information to the general public. Figure 2 allows the public to compare the performance of the retailers without getting bogged down in tables of numbers, cfu/g and confidence intervals.

Which has also done a short press release.

Gil Domingue says:
9 December 2015

I don’t think “safe” chicken however defined, would have resulted if industry had been pressured. The first intervention was always a cost-effective vaccine for poultry along the lines of the salmonella vaccines for poultry. When these latter were introduced in the late 90’s poultry-associated salmonellosis FP plummeted. It is a governmental (past & present administrations) responsibility to fund rapid research into a cost-effective campylo vaccine. The dominant campylo types associated with FP are in the PHE databases and this could be where to start the work.

The options are to vaccinate the chickens or to vaccinate the humans that eat them. I understand that a human vaccine is undergoing tests. I do hope that the poultry industry can get to grips with the problem, making a vaccine unnecessary.