raw chicken© Image Broker/Rex/Shutterstock

Processors now trim neck flaps on whole birds to the extent that accurate tests for campylobacter can no longer be taken at retail level, the Food Standards Agency has said.

The regulator has suspended publication of its quarterly retailer testing to reassess the methodology – and frequency – of sampling.

Neck skin of whole birds sold at retail are now heavily trimmed, removing the area of highest campylobacter contamination.

See also: Four more years of growth for poultry sector

The intervention has had a dramatic impact on the level of campy reaching consumers’ kitchens, according to the FSA, and is a measure every processor should consider.

But neck flaps are now so short, sampling at retail level needs to be reconsidered.  

“We need to be proactive, and make sure our retail survey continues to allow us to make robust comparisons of the performance of different retailers, each of whom take different approaches to the trimming of neck skin,” FSA policy director Steve Wearne told a board meeting in March.

One option being considered was to move away from quarterly testing to sampling over the summer months, when levels were highest.

Another potential change to testing was a move to curating industry data, rather than the FSA conducting sampling itself. It was also suggested that the regulator would place more focus on human infection rates, rather than food contamination in the future.

“We’ve asked retailers whether they are prepared to commit in principle to publish, not just an analysis of their own data, but to publish the supporting data to standards we’d expect,” said Mr Wearne.

“Our future role isn’t to collect or warehouse data ourselves, but to set standards, and support the publication of open data. We believe that’s the way forward as a regulator.”

Gary Ford, chief poultry adviser at the NFU, said the industry would likely support such a move in principle, but cautioned against anything that could be seen as a drop in standards. “It makes sense as long as it’s robust. What we don’t want is to be open to criticism.”