Tesco whole raw chicken in packaging© Ray Tang/Rex Shutterstock

Tesco has said it is already hitting the Food Standards Agency (FSA) target for campylobacter contamination in chicken, and is on course to drive levels even lower over the next 12 months.

The FSA set a national target of having less than 10% of retail chicken in the highest contamination bracket (more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gramme) by the end of this year.

Its first year of survey results, covering the period February 2014 to February 2015, was published in September, and showed that, nationally, 19% of chickens on shop shelves fell into this high contamination category.

See also: FSA releases full-year campylobacter testing results

In that survey, Tesco was found to have the lowest level of any major supermarket, with 13% of samples in the high contamination category.

But new figures, compiled by Tesco, show that figure has fallen to less than 9% in the third quarter of this year (mid-July to mid-October), which compares with 15% recorded by the FSA in the same period of 2014.

Tesco’s group quality director, Tim Smith, said the retail group had a long-term commitment to reduce levels of campylobacter in its poultry.

“We are now seeing real progress at all stages of the supply chain, in tackling the issue through the work we have done with our suppliers,” he said.

The FSA’s director of policy, Steve Wearne, applauded the results. “It is very good to see the company’s commitment to reducing campylobacter showing positive results.”

Tesco said it now aims to get 95% of its chicken below the 1,000cfu/g target by 2017, meaning just 5% would be in the highest contamination category.

Interventions so far include the use of leak-proof packaging for all raw poultry, which also contains customer information on safe food handling and cooking instructions.

In addition, store staff are trained to look out for and remove any damaged packs from shelves.

Tesco is also understood to get most of its chicken from 2 Sisters Food Group and Moy Park, who have both been involved in active campylobacter reduction programmes, including on-farm and factory interventions.

The next round of FSA survey data, which will include figures for the discounters Aldi and Lidl for the first time, is due to be published on 19 November.