Poop on birds: A survey of Campylobacter on fresh chicken in the UK

The year-long survey of Campylobacter on fresh chicken by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is carried out during the period from February 2014 to February 2015, reported the levels of Campylobacter found on fresh chickens sold in the UK. The final report was released in May, 2015, and it included the results represented by major retailers all over the UK.

Campylobacter has become the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning in the UK, which can cause gastrointestinal infections such as bloody diarrhea and dysentery syndrome like cramps, fever, and pain. Poisoning usually develops a few days after eating contaminated food, and the most common routes of transmission are fecal-oral.  Raw poultry, being the most common food vehicle responsible for the transmission contributes to 4 in 5 cases of campylobacter food poisoning in the UK.

According to the results from the report, during the tested period,

  • 19% chickens tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination (greater than 1,000 colony forming unit per gram (cfu/g) on each sample)
  • 73% of chickens tested positive for the presence of campylobacter (i.e. contained campylobacter at a level above the detectable limit of 10 cfu/g)
  • 0.1% (5 samples) of packaging tested positive at the highest band of contamination
  • 7% of packaging tested positive for the presence of campylobacter

(If you are interested in more details about the report, please refer to the full report at   A microbiological survey of Campylobacter contamination in fresh whole UKproduced chilled chickens at retail sale – February 2014 to February 2015)

However,  above results seem not to be optimistic provided that the UK government and industry have targeted  for reduction of Campylobacter in the chickens produced in UK poultry slaughterhouses that have the highest level of contamination (i.e. those with more than 1,000 cfu per gram) from a baseline of 27% in 2008 to 10% by 2015 ever since 2010. (read more at the Joint Government and Industry Target to Reduce Campylobacter in UK Produced Chickens by 2015 December 2010)

Under such circumstances, to further reduce campylobacter levels in raw chicken and improve the food safety in the UK, the FSA initiated the ‘Chicken Challenge’ during the summer of 2015, and encouraged the public to share messages that demonstrate proper food handling methods to their family and friends. For example, the message saying “store raw chicken separately from other food, covered and chilled on bottom shelf of fridge” would prevent cross contamination and help limit the growth of Campylobacter. For more good demonstrations and some other fun activities you can visit the home page of the  ‘Chicken Challenge’.

Finally, back to our daily life, there are certain things you can do to avoid Campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter poisoning). Campylobacter is actually very heat sensitive and can be destroyed with thorough heating process. Your chicken is safe as long as you follow good kitchen practice:

  • Cover and chill raw chicken: Cover raw chicken and store them on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that the juices can’t drip on to other foods and contaminate them with Campylobacter.
  • Don’t wash raw chicken: Cooking will kill any bacteria present in the raw chicken, including Campylobacter. However, if you wash them in your sink, splashing of water will spread the germs.
  • Wash hands and use utensils: Thoroughly wash and clean all utensils that contact the raw chicken, such as chopping boards and surface used to prepare raw chicken. And thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling raw chicken. Such practice can help prevent cross contamination.
  • Cook chicken thoroughly: Make sure chicken is steaming hot all the way through before consuming. It is always better to check that the thickest part of your chicken is steaming hot with no pink meat and the juices run clear.

Check out the video below to become a ‘Chicken Hero’!

Wish you all have a safe one without any food poisoning 🙂 LOL

Candice Zheng