FSA says research shows UK consumers support chicken clean-up campaign

Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) on Thursday announced research showing that consumers want the food industry to continue action to tackle Campylobacter in chickens — the biggest cause of food poisoning in the United Kingdom.

The new findings show that 68 precent of UK consumers think the industry should continue to reduce Campylobacter levels beyond the agreed current target of less than 10 percent of chickens at the most highly contaminated level.

rawchicken_406x250Retailers should also be telling customers what proportion of chickens are at this highest level of contamination, according to 75 percent of those questioned.

The research has been released to coincide with the resumption this month of FSA’s Campylobacter survey, part of an ongoing effort to reduce the high levels of food poisoning caused by the bug. Testing was suspended in April so FSA could update the way the survey was carried out to ensure results continued to be robust, the agency stated.

“Publishing surveillance data on Campylobacter has prompted action from retailers and processors and we are now seeing progress,” FSA’s policy director Steve Wearne said in the announcement.

“Our campaign has also raised awareness of Campylobacter amongst the public and it is good to see from our research that it is customers, and not just the FSA, demanding action and information from retailers. We have always said that consumer power will ultimately push industry action.

“Many retailers and processors should be commended for the action they have taken so far. The majority signed up to the pledge to ensure that Campylobacter in chicken ceases to be a significant public health issue, and continued action will be needed to deliver this.”

FSA’s research shows that 76 percent of people questioned want retailers to be more proactive in telling them what actions are being taken to reduce Campylobacter levels on the raw chicken being sold in the marketplace. More than half the people asked, 53 percent, said that they would start buying chicken from another retailer if their usual shop was found to sell more than the industry average of “high risk” chicken.

With the goal of reducing the number Campylobacter illnesses, FSA in 2010 agreed with industry to target “high risk” chickens, meaning those with more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram of chicken neck skin, at the end of the slaughter process to bring the number contaminated down to 10 percent from 27 percent by the end of 2015.

This is said to be the equivalent of 7 percent of raw chickens sold at retail. It takes into account the natural decline in Campylobacter levels from the end of the slaughter line to the chill chain. The 7 percent is FSA’s target for its retail surveys that test Campylobacter levels on chickens sold by a wide variety of UK retailers, including major chain stores.