chicken on supermarket shelf© Jeff Blackler/Rex Shutterstock

Latest survey results of campylobacter levels in fresh shop-bought chickens show a significant decline in the number of birds with the highest level of contamination, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced today.

Presenting its first set of results from its second-year survey, the FSA said just 15% of samples tested at the highest level of more than 1,000cfu/g compared with 22% in 2014.

See also: Campylobacter levels heading in the right direction

Campylobacter was present on 76% of chicken samples, down from 83% in the same months of last year in the survey, which took place between July and September and involved 1,032 samples across the retailer sector.

The survey found large variations between retailers, with results showing that Waitrose and the Co-op had made the most significant reductions in the proportion of birds sold that were highly contaminated.

Steve Wearne, FSA director of policy, said progress was being made but he wanted to see real and lasting reductions.

“I am also pleased that we are starting to see retailers and processors being open with consumers about what they are doing to tackle the problem and about the impact their interventions are having on the chickens they are selling.”

The news was welcomed across the poultry sector. Richard MacDonald, Acting on Campylobacter Together board chairman, said: “Campylobacter remains a very complex bacterium that exists naturally in the environment.

“We have made great strides in our understanding and the interventions now available extend from farm to fork.

“We are confident that the creativity and innovation being brought to bear will drive further progress.”

John Reed, British Poultry Council chairman, added: “We are pleased to see progress after years of effort and the investment of tens of millions of pounds.

“There is still a lot of work to go but these results show that we are moving in the right direction.”

Heather Jenkins, Waitrose director of agriculture and meat, fish and dairy buying, said the results reflected the positive impact of supply chain interventions including enhanced farm biosecurity, farmer incentives, flock management systems, innovative production and packaging and unique in-line interventions at processor level.

Mrs Jenkins said there was no single solution to the issue. “We are delighted that the work we have done in conjunction with our supplier Moy Park is yielding significant results. We hope that this work will, in the future, significantly help the wider food industry’s work to tackle this organism.”

Ursula Lavery, Moy Park’s technical director, added: “We have continued to develop our extensive action plan to reduce campylobacter “end to end” from farm to fork.

“Our focus on in-depth leading scientific research and data analysis has allowed us to concentrate our efforts in a targeted direction and we are now seeing strong progress as a result.”

Research published yesterday (18 November) from the by the University of Manchester has found that three-quarters of consumers still do not associate campylobacter with chicken that they are buying.

There is a much higher recognition of the link between salmonella and chicken (75%) and E coli (50%), according to Dan Rigby, professor of environmental economics.