Details due on food poisoning bug

Published: Thursday 27th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Consumers are set to learn the extent of the food poisoning bug campylobacter among fresh shop-bought chickens in an announcement that will name individual retailers for the first time.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) will release the second set of results today from what will be year-long testing of whole chickens bought from UK retail outlets and smaller independent stores and butchers.

The previous results, announced in early August, revealed that the bug was present in 59% of birds tested, and in 4% of samples it was identified on the outside of the packaging.

Campylobacter is killed by thorough cooking, but is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting an estimated 280,000 people a year – and the majority of these cases come from contaminated poultry.

The FSA attracted criticism for deciding against naming individual retailers in the first set of results, saying at the time: “As soon as we have enough data to robustly compare campylobacter levels in different retailers, we will share that data with consumers.”

But it has said that today’s set of results will include a breakdown results by major retailer.

It was reported yesterday that former head of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and current technical director at Tesco Tim Smith lobbied the Government about plans to publish food poisoning contamination rates for supermarket chicken, a newspaper has reported.

The Guardian said it understood that Mr Smith warned the Department of Health this summer that revealing the results could provoke a food scare and damage the industry.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) said it viewed today’s release of data “as another step to reduce the number of cases of food poisoning by raising awareness amongst consumers”.

The BPC said: “Over the last five years the poultry sector, with retailers and the FSA, has worked hard to understand how this naturally occurring bug gets into flocks, how we can stop it and how we can remove it once it’s there.

“It is right that consumers have plenty of information on which to base their buying decisions, be that on safety, welfare, convenience or price.”

A Which? survey has found that only a third of people (33%) had heard of campylobacter, compared to 94% being aware of salmonella and 92% of E. coli.

More than half (55%) thought that there was not enough information available regarding campylobacter levels in chicken.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “By releasing information about which supermarkets are most affected, the FSA will at once put more public pressure on the poor performers to improve and give consumers better information about campylobacter levels.

“There can be no shirking responsibility. Everyone involved in producing and selling chickens must act now and tell consumers what they’re doing to make sure the chicken we eat is safe.”

Published: Thursday 27th November 2014 by The News Editor

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