FSA suspends campylobacter testing

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published an update on its one-year campylobacter retail survey and announced its intention to suspend sampling.

The way the FSA has conducted the testing for campylobacter levels has been to measure the amount of the bug on the neck skin of the chicken – this is because this is generally the most contaminated part of the bird.

However, a growing number of processors are removing the neck skin before the birds are put on the supermarket shelves. This is good news for the consumer because it reduces the amount of campylobacter on the bird, but it’s a problem for analyses. Given that chicken samples now contain varying amounts of neck skin, it makes it difficult for the FSA to compare fairly one retailer with another and to give accurate comparisons with previous quarterly results.

The agency has therefore decided to suspend the survey for the time being while it looks again at what sort of testing might be done to provide clear information on the progress being made by retailers to tackle campylobacter.

The FSA is considering a number of options for amending its testing protocol so as to give a more consistent indication of the levels of the bug. It hopes to be able to restart sampling in the summer. Additionally, in the longer-term, the agency will be asking industry to conduct their own testing and to publish their results to an agreed set of standards prescribed and maintained by the FSA.

The results of the third quarter of the survey will be published on 26 May 2016. As with previous quarters, publication of the data follows Office of National Statistics rules. However, because of the issues outlined above, the agency will simply be giving an overall figure for the amount of campylobacter on chicken and will not this time be breaking the figures down by retailer.

Since it has temporarily suspended sampling, the FSA won’t be publishing a final quarter set of results within this survey.

The FSA says it remains committed to the publication of survey results, including retailer data, which are both useful to people but also encourage retailers to ensure the chickens they put on sale have as few campylobacter on them as possible.

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