Sneaky: Campy in UK chickens declines, but is an artifact

The UK Food Standards Agency says the latest data show 9.3% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination in this quarter, down from 21.8% for the three months from December 2014 to February 2015*.

chickenCampylobacter was present on 50% of chicken samples, down from 71% in the equivalent quarter of the previous year. We tested 1,009 samples of fresh whole chilled UK-produced chickens and packaging this quarter.

Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at 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. This is good news for the consumer because 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.

Therefore, this quarter, we are giving an overall figure for the amount of campylobacter on chicken and not breaking the figures down by retailer as we normally do. We have also stopped this survey and will begin a new one in the summer, with a different method of testing campylobacter levels on chicken. sFirst results from this survey, which will rank retailers, are due in January 2017.”

Alex Neil , director of policy and campaigns at Which?, said: “Despite the work by the regulator and the industry to reduce campylobacter in chickens, levels remain too high and it still poses a significant risk to the public.

“We want to see much greater transparency from the supermarkets on their own testing and the action they are taking to keep their customers safe from this bug.”


Market food safety at retail: Consumer group says UK supermarkets ‘must act on food bug’

Supermarkets should make a joint stand and show consumers they are serious about Campylobacter by taking a “more visible and co-ordinated industry wide approach” against the problem.

chickenWhich? has written to the UK’s seven major supermarkets to demand they take more action to tackle campylobacter, a bacteria which can be found in chickens and lead to serious illness.

The group has called on Asda, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose to make publicly available plans for how they will tackle Campylobacter, along with clear timeframes for when this will happen.

In its letter to the supermarkets, sent today, Which? says that almost six weeks have passed since the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released data showing “scandalously high levels” of the bacteria in chicken, and that “consumers need reassurance that supermarkets are taking this seriously and doing all they can to address the problem”.

Some 30,000 people have signed a Which? campaign to make chicken safe, and the organization said 60% of consumers were concerned about high levels of campylobacter in supermarket chickens, with 75% saying they thought they were too high.

Half of consumers were unhappy about the amount of information about campylobacter levels in chicken.

“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 include both immediate and planned interventions along the food chain, Which? said, such as incentivizing farmers to improve controls to the use of blast surface chilling, to reduce levels of campylobacter as quickly as is feasible.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said food safety was retailers’ “top priority” and that initiatives such as leak-proof and oven ready packaging, safe handling information on labels, websites and in in-store magazines had been introduced to help people understand the risks and minimize contamination.

Set goals and publish the data.

Worst areas for hygiene scores in UK restaurants

In a rating of restaurant hygiene based on public inspection scores in the UK, the SE25 area of Croydon has been listed as one of the “worst areas,” as a takeaway in Selhurst area, just outside of the SE25 postcode, received the highest food safety fine ever levied by Croydon Magistrates — £30,000 after failing to meet standards since 2005.

Consumer group Which? Magazine collected data from thousands of local authorities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 2011 onwards.

East London Lines reports the results come from individual councils’ food and safety inspections carried out in accordance with guidelines set by the rest.inspection.disclosure.ukFood Standards Agency.

The guidelines provide a 0-6 scale, scoring food outlets from 0 meaning “urgent improvement necessary,” to 5 meaning ‘very good.’

Although the subheading of the “Which?” article uses the word “eateries,” the data includes food outlets such as takeaways and restaurants, but also schools and hospitals.

“Which?” reported that 44 per cent of the 85 inspected outlets in the SE25 area of Croydon scored less than 3. The average score for Croydon was 2.65.

The worst in the country was Bexley with an average score of 2.62.

East London Lines spoke to the Food Safety Team at Croydon Council who said that “there are many reasons why the average ratings vary from place to place”.

One of the suggested reasons is that there may be variation in the way in which people are grading. The spokesman said that some people may be “tougher than others.”

Croydon Council stressed that “whilst those premises with low scores do have things that they should improve they are not considered to be an immediate health risk.”

When asked about the high percentage of low scores, The Food Safety Team commented that a low score does not necessarily reflect the hygiene premises.

Lots of smaller businesses and owners who do not have English as their first language often do not have a proper written health and safety system and “this prevents them scoring over one on the hygiene rating system, regardless of how good they are.”

Croydon Council said that they are working with these businesses to improve their grading.

East London Lines found that the claims published by “Which?” do not correlate with information on “Scores On the Doors,” although both use council’s FSA data as their source.