The small store supply chain still needs to do much more to better control levels of the dangerous campylobacter bacteria present on fresh whole chicken sold through small convenience stores and butchers, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has warned.
Latest findings from the FSA’s fourth annual Campylobacter survey showed that the harmful bacteria was detected in 75% of chickens bought from smaller retail shops – significantly higher than the 56% industry average for all stores.
Chickens from all types of retail shops including butchers, independents and small symbol group stores plus the nine major supermarkets and discounters (Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose) were tested.
Based on this data, campylobacter was detected in 56% of all chicken skin samples and 7% of the samples had counts above 1000 cfu per g chicken skin - the highest level of contamination.
However, results obtained after a full year of testing on chickens from smaller stores revealed that they had a “significantly higher proportion of chickens with 1000 cfu per g of campylobacter compared to the average for all samples,” the FSA said.
Campylobacter was detected in 75% of chicken skin samples obtained from small stores and 15% of these tested positive for the highest level of contamination.
A spokeswoman for the FSA said: “While the proportion of chicken at retail sale in the UK that is contaminated with a high level of campylobacter has decreased, the proportion of highly contaminated chickens from smaller retail shops remains high and suggests that more needs to be done to achieve better control in this part of the sector.
“The reductions in campylobacter at major retailers are largely attributed to interventions that have taken place in the slaughterhouses.
“The slaughterhouses that supply smaller retailers tend to be small to medium processors, who may not be in the same financial position to implement more sophisticated interventions.
“Smaller retailers should discuss with their supplier what they are doing to reduce levels of campylobacter contamination, and what post-chill interventions may be put into place.”
Campylobacter is the most prominent bacterium associated with foodborne disease in the UK, estimated to make more than 280,000 people ill each year and is the biggest cause of food poisoning.