Supermarkets urged to publish
chicken contamination test results
Consumer group Which? asks stores to help stamp out campylobacter food poisoning by making testing process more transparent
Tesco is one of 10 supermarkets that has been asked to share its campylobacter test results with shoppers
Sunday 3 July 2016 00.05 BST
All 10 leading UK supermarkets are being urged by a consumer group to help stamp out a potentially lethal food-poisoning bug present in the chickens they sell by regularly publishing the results of their own internal tests.
On the eve of national food safety week, Which? has written to the largest chains calling on them to shoulder “greater responsibility” for testing of campylobacter levels in chicken.
Which? says shoppers must be able to compare retailers’ progress through a more transparent and consistent testing regime – and reduce their own risk – as they seek reassurance that the chicken they buy is safe to eat.
Campylobacter continues to be the main cause of food poisoning in the UK, according to official figures from the Government’s food watchdog, the Food Standards Agency.
But the FSA has recently stopped measuring levels of the bacterium found in chicken while it works out a new system of checking for the bug, which is said to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning, and 100 deaths in the UK every year.
That exercise alone cost £750,000 annually and the FSA has also paused, for the moment, its work detailing the levels of contamination at shops run by the big supermarket chains.
One in 10 chickens may still carry highest levels of campylobacter
Retailers also do their own testing – and share the results with the FSA – but, with the exception of Marks & Spencer and Morrisons, do not routinely make the results public.
Which? said that while supermarkets have demonstrated it is possible to put measures in place across the production chain to reduce campylobacter in chickens, levels remain unacceptably high.
Around half of chickens are still contaminated and people continue to fall ill as a result.
In the letter to supermarkets – which include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Lidl – Which? director of policy and campaigns Alex Neill said: “We have now reached a vital crossroads in the fight against this potentially deadly bug.
We believe it is time for much greater transparency from retailers about testing and the extent to which the controls put in place are proving effective.”
The industry is working towards a target, agreed with the FSA, to reduce the number of the most contaminated birds to less than 10% by the end of 2016.
But Neill told the Observer: “Despite the work by the regulator and the industry to reduce campylobacter in chickens, levels remain too high and it still poses a significant risk to the public.“
The FSA’s target and its regular testing has put the dangerously high levels of contamination in the spotlight and has led to reductions.
It’s now time for retailers to shoulder greater responsibility for the ongoing testing and they should be publishing their own data in a comparable, consistent way.”
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