Some 70% of supermarket chicken has tested positive for campylobacter, according to a new survey by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The results of its survey show that

  • 18% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter above the highest level of contamination
  • 70% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter
  • 6% of packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter with only one sample at the highest level of contamination.

In total, 1,995 samples of fresh whole chilled supermarket chicken have now been tested, with packaging also tested for most of these samples. Data show variations between supermarket retailers but none are meeting the end-of-production target for reducing campylobacter.

The overall figures show an increase in contamination from the first quarter to the second quarter. This is most likely due to the second quarter’s samples being taken during the summer months when an increase in campylobacter is often seen because of the warmer weather.

This 12-month survey, running from February 2014 to February 2015, will test 4,000 samples of whole chickens bought from UK supermarket outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.

Campylobacter is killed by thorough cooking; however it is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 people a year. Poultry is the source of the majority of these cases.

Steve Wearne, FSA Director of Policy, said: the results show that the food industry, especially in a supermarket 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 1,000 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.

He said that if chicken is cooked thoroughly and preparation guidelines are properly followed, the risk to the public is extremely low.