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Worst supermarkets for campylobacter contaminated chickens named by FSA

Asda came out worst of the major retailers tested. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

Contamination of fresh shop-bought chickens has risen significantly new figures released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show.

The FSA has also named individual retailers for the first time, showing Asda to have the highest number of chickens contaminated with campylobacter and Tesco the least.

Asda sold the highest percentage of chickens contaminated, at 78%, with 28% showing the bug above the highest level of contamination and 12% of packaging testing positive. Almost three-quarters of chickens (73%) sold by the Co-operative were contaminated.

Here is the full list of the major retailers tested:

  • Asda 78%
  • Co-operative 73%
  • Morrisons 69%
  • Sainsbury's 69%
  • Waitrose 69%
  • Marks & Spencer 67%
  • Tesco 64%
The numbers and level of contamination. Credit: FSA

We take campylobacter seriously and it goes without saying that we’re disappointed with these findings. There is no ‘silver bullet’ to tackle this issue, but along with other retailers, we’re working hard to find a solution.

We welcome the transparency of the FSA results and we are committed to food safety. We have led the industry in packaging innovation and were the first supermarket to launch Roast in the Bag chicken, removing the need to handle raw meat. And we continue to work with our suppliers to ensure that we are doing everything we can to reduce the chances of our customers coming into contact with campylobacter – including investing in trialling a new procedure - SonoSteam - which, if successful, we will roll out across our suppliers.

We also continue to offer shoppers helpful advice on how to safely prepare and cook chicken – which will kill off any trace of the bug.

– Asda statement

The FSA said the cumulative results from the first two quarters of its year-long survey of fresh chickens found 70% tested positive for the presence of campylobacter, up from 59% in August.

Almost a fifth of all chickens (18%) tested positive for the bug above the highest level of contamination, or 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g), and 6% of packaging tested positive, up from 4% in August.

Asda came out worst of the major retailers tested. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

The figures mark the halfway point of a full year review which will test whole, chilled, raw, UK-produced standard, free range or organic chickens sold in packaging.

The ‘Others’ category includes supermarkets where the market share was deemed small using the 2010 Kantar data, i.e. Lidl, Aldi, Iceland, plus convenience stores, independents, butchers etc. Credit: FSA

These results show that the food industry, especially retailers, need to do more to reduce the amount of campylobacter on fresh chickens. Although we are only half-way through the survey, 18% of birds tested had campylobacter over 1000 cfu/g, the highest level of contamination, and more than 70% of birds had some campylobacter on them. This shows there is a long way to go before consumers are protected from this bug.

If chicken is cooked thoroughly and preparation guidelines are properly followed, the risk to the public is extremely low.

There are signs that some retailers are starting to step up to their responsibilities. When more do, we will see the sustained improvements that will help prevent many of their customers getting ill.

– Steve Wearne, FSA Director of Policy

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and is believed to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year.

Chicken is safe as long as consumers follow good kitchen practice:

  • Cover and chill raw chicken - Cover raw chicken and store at the bottom of the fridge so juices cannot drip on to other foods and contaminate them with food poisoning bacteria such as campylobacter.
  • Don’t wash raw chicken - Cooking will kill any bacteria present, including campylobacter, while washing chicken can spread germs by splashing.
  • Wash used utensils - Thoroughly wash and clean all utensils, chopping boards and surfaces used to prepare raw chicken. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, after handling raw chicken. This helps stop the spread of campylobacter by avoiding cross contamination.
  • Cook chicken thoroughly - Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before serving. Cut in to the thickest part of the meat and check that it is steaming hot with no pink meat and that the juices run clear.

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