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Food Safety Week 2015 – spotlight on Campylobacter and the Chicken Challenge

Today marks the start of Food Safety Week 2015, and once again the spotlight is on Campylobacter.  This morning, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released new figures which suggest that up to a third of the UK population could contract food poisoning from Campylobacter during their lifetime. The figure is based on the current infection rates of more than a quarter of a million people per year in the UK.  Chicken is a very popular meat; a recent FSA poll showed that in the UK almost three quarters of us eat chicken every week.

Flagellated C. jejuni photo using Scanning Electron Microscopy (Kathryn Cross, IFR)Campylobacter is a bacterium that is commonly found on raw poultry meat and is the biggest cause of food poisoning in the UK.  The FSA is working with the industry to reduce Campylobacter contamination on poultry meat and is currently conducting a year-long survey looking at the levels of Campylobacter on fresh whole chilled retail chickens and their packaging.  The latest data from this FSA survey, covering three quarters of the survey period, was released in February 2015 and reported that more than 70% of chicken samples were positive for Campylobacter.

With the annual incidence of Campylobacter at more than a quarter of a million cases per year in the UK, and approximately 8 million in the EU, it represents an important public health and economic problem. Funders, regulators, industry, retailers and scientists continue to work together to address this problem. However, there is currently no ‘silver bullet’ solution to the problem of Campylobacter – it is an issue without quick fixes or easy solutions, and all partners involved want to solve it. Solutions need to be long-term, economically viable and robust.

Dr Arnoud van VlietAt the Institute of Food Research , Dr Arnoud van Vliet leads the research on Campylobacter, with the aim to support the food industry with preventing the introduction and spread of Campylobacter in the food chain, and to support the regulatory bodies by helping them to assess which sources of Campylobacter are giving problems, and whether we can predict future trends in Campylobacter-related food safety.  For example, our work with industrial partners focuses on how Campylobacter can survive in the poultry processing environment. We are also working on tracing Campylobacter using DNA sequencing, to help regulatory bodies in analysing where current infections come from, and to predict where future problems may occur.

Dr van Vliet, who works as a Research Leader within the GHFS Programme at the IFR, commented on the new figures from the FSA “This years Food Safety Week focuses on Campylobacter, which is still relatively unknown within the general public, despite it being the most likely cause of foodborne illness. Although producers, retailers, scientists and regulators are all committed to reducing the problem, it also needs continuous vigilance from consumers who can protect themselves from Campylobacter by good kitchen hygiene and ensuring the meat is thoroughly cooked and handled. Such a joint effort is the best way forward, with the target of reducing foodborne illness from Campylobacter. Hence we fully support the FSA’s Food Safety Week and the Chicken Challenge.”

As part of the 2015 Food Safety Week, the FSA has launched its ‘Chicken Challenge’ – its call to the whole food chain, from industry to consumers, to do their bit to halve the number of Campylobacter food poisoning cases by the end of 2015.  The Food Safety Week ‘Chicken Challenge’ is asking people who eat chicken to promise to take the following steps to protect themselves and their families:

  • Store raw chicken separately from other food, covered and chilled on the bottom shelf of the fridge
  • Not to wash raw chicken as it splashes germs
  • Wash everything that’s touched raw chicken in soap and hot water, including hands and utensils
  • Check chicken is cooked properly until it’s steaming hot throughout with no pink meat and the juices run clear. You can ensure that your chicken is properly cooked using a digital thermometer. Insert the tip into the thickest part of the chicken, between breast and thigh, and check the temperature reaches 75°C

Food Safety Week will run 18-24 May 2015.  More information about Campylobacter and the Chicken Challenge is available on the FSA website.

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