The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) just published results from a year-long testing program revealing that retailers are failing to meet goals for reducing the presence of bacteria that cause foodborne outbreaks. According to test results, a whopping 73 percent of fresh chickens in supermarkets and butchers are contaminated with Campylobacter--the most common cause of foodborne illness in the UK. Nineteen percent of fresh chickens were found to be “heavily contaminated”.
The FSA’s program gathered more than 4,000 fresh poultry samples from large retailers, butchers and small independent stores for one full year between February 2014 and February 2015. Besides the chicken itself, testing also revealed that 7 percent of packaging also tested positive for the bacteria, which increases the chance of cross-contamination when consumers pile additional items into their shopping baskets.
For about 10 years, the FSA chose not to publicly name retailers repeatedly selling contaminated poultry. Instead, officials tried other means to encourage industry improvements. The poultry industry even lobbied to stop the FSA from publishing test results, claiming that doing so would scare consumers out of buying poultry. In November, though, the agency finally proceeded with naming retailers, resulting in a 7 percent drop in fresh chicken sales.
Asda, a British-based, American-owned chain supermarket had the worst testing results with 80 percent of its chickens containing Campylobacter, 30 percent of them heavily contaminated and 12 percent of its packaging contaminated. Other major retailers did not fare much better, however, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Morrisons and the Co-Operative have seen fewer instances of Campylobacter contamination since the study ended earlier this year. Tesco’s rates of bacterial presence was the lowest of all retailers tested. Asda has said they are testing out other chicken suppliers to see if either can help improve the state of their chicken supply.
The FSA's test results come just on the heels of their "Chicken Challenge", the agency's campaign to fight Campylobacter across the UK where 280,000 people are sickened by Campylobacter each year, and about 100 of them succumb to their illness.