The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has just published its final report of their year-long survey of Campylobacter levels on UK fresh shop-bought chickens.

The data includes surveys conducted between February 2014 through March 2015--the same results which have previously been published on a quarterly basis throughout the last year. The agency measured levels of Campylobacter contamination in fresh, whole chickens sold in the UK.

Survey findings include:

  • 19% of chickens tested positive for Campylobacter within the highest band of contamination*
  • 73% of chickens tested positive for the presence of Campylobacter
  • 0.1% (five samples) of packaging tested positive at the highest band of contamination
  • 7% of packaging tested positive for the presence of Campylobacter

* more than 1000 colony forming units per gram (>1000 cfu/g). These units indicate the degree of contamination on each sample.

These findings no different from those that were released in May. Out of the seven retailers researched, Tesco still had the lowest rates of contamination while Asda still had the highest. Last spring, Asda had indicated that they were testing out other chicken suppliers to see if either can help improve the state of their chicken supply.

What’s new in this latest report is specifics regarding what types of chickens were more likely to contain traces of Campylobacter. Surprisingly, organic birds--with 29 percent in the highest contamination bracket--had higher levels of Campylobacter compared to standard or free-range birds. It is important to note that out of more than 4,000 total samples, only 28 organic birds were tested in this survey, making the statistical relevance insufficient to make any real conclusion.

Additional new data includes how bird size affects their level of contamination. Here, 23 percent of large birds had high levels of Campylobacter compared to just 14 percent of small birds.

Besides retailers, processors were also assessed based on levels of Campylobacter presence in their flocks. Moy Park Chicken’s plants in Sleaford and Bungannon had the lowest levels of contamination. Highest levels were found at Faccenda in Brackley and Banham Poultry in Attleborough. Faccenda has said that improvements have been instituted since the samples were collected up to 18 months ago. They have installed SonoSteam technology to help kill traces of bacteria.

Besides chickens being contaminated, consumers also have to worry about packaging that is contaminated on the outside. Although only 6.8 percent of chicken packaging had traces of contamination on the exterior, the FSA says it’s still concerning because consumers don’t expect this, and there are no specific rules regarding how to handle such packaging from the point of sale to opening it at home. Tesco and M&S had the lowest levels of packaging contamination. Two retailers--Asda and Morrison’s--had the highest.

Historically, according to FSA, Campylobacter has been to blame for more foodborne outbreaks in the UK than both Salmonella and Escherichia coli combined, spawning around 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year. Previously, the agency set a goal to decrease Campylobacter contamination in chickens to less than 10 percent by the end of 2015.

Currently the agency is embarking on a new retail survey that will allow them to track progress and determine where their effort are making a difference.