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Waitrose points to ‘external factors’ for high Campylobacter results

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The Waitrose grocery chain blamed factors outside the retailer’s control and supply base for poor Campylobacter in chicken results.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) maximum target level is up to 7 percent of birds with more than 1,000 colony-forming units per gram (CFU/g) of Campylobacter.

Waitrose and Partners reported that 7.1 percent of chickens tested positive for Campylobacter above 1,000 CFU/g from October to December 2023.

“This is unusually high compared to our previous results, but the levels of Campylobacter can be adversely influenced by seasonal changes and localized weather conditions, such as unusually damp or foggy conditions, which are outside the control of Waitrose and Partners and its supply base,” said the retailer.

“Waitrose and Partners and its suppliers take any above 1,000 CFU/g result seriously, and our suppliers fully investigate all to ensure all controllable parameters are within agreed specifications.”

Waitrose and Partners results show that 2 percent of samples tested positive for Campylobacter at levels above 1,000 CFU/g from July to September and April to June.

Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Co-op
Data from the retailers covers the second half of 2023 on high findings of Campylobacter in fresh, shop-bought, UK-produced chickens.

The Sainsbury’s chain has joined retailer Tesco in stopping publishing related data.

“The safety of our products is extremely important to us and we have a range of processes in place to monitor and limit levels of Campylobacter in our fresh chicken. We have consistently achieved the FSA target for Campylobacter levels for several years, so we will no longer be formally reporting on this,” said Sainsbury’s spokesperson.

Sainsbury’s Campylobacter results for Q2 2023 showed that 1 percent of chickens had levels above 1,000 CFU/g compared to 3 percent in Q1.

Aldi has not updated its related webpage or provided the figures when Food Safety News asked it to do so. The latest data from Q4 2022 shows that 1.7 percent of chickens had levels above 1,000 CFU/g.

Co-op reported chickens contaminated at levels greater than 1,000 CFU/g for the first time since Q3 2021. In Q3 2023, 3.5 percent were above 1,000 CFU/g; in Q4, the figure was 2.6 percent.

Results from other supermarkets
Lidl recorded 4 percent of birds in the highest category from July to September and above 2 percent from October to December 2023. The figures were almost 2 percent in the highest category from April to June and 4 percent from January to March.

Marks and Spencer had 1 percent of samples in the top threshold in July, none in August, and 4 percent in September from 376 samples. The retailer also had 3 percent above 1,000 CFU/g in October, none in November, and 3.85 percent in December.

Marks and Spencer had no samples at the highest level from April to June. It also had none above 1,000 CFU/g in January and 1 percent each in February and March 2023 from 376 samples. 

Asda reported that 2.42 percent of samples were above 1,000 CFU/g in the third quarter of 2023 and 3.33 percent in the fourth quarter. This compares to 3.6 percent in the first quarter and 3.5 percent in the second quarter. 

Morrisons had no chickens contaminated above 1,000 CFU/g for both quarters, compared to 2.3 percent from April to June and 2.4 percent from January to March 2023.

Irish situation
In other news, details have been shared in Zoonoses and Public Health about a Campylobacter monitoring program in Ireland and testing results between 2019 and 2022.

2015, the Campylobacter Stakeholders’ Group was established to reduce contamination in Irish broiler flocks.

An analysis of 2019 to 2022 data showed a significant reduction in levels in both caeca and neck skin when results from 2022 were compared to 2019 and 2020. Campylobacter was detected in 37 percent of cecal samples from first depopulation (pre-thin) broilers and 30 percent of neck skin samples in 2022, with just 4 percent of neck skin samples from carcasses with levels above 1,000 CFU/g in 2022. 

Researchers said cooperation between stakeholders and regulators of the broiler chicken industry has facilitated a coordinated approach to monitoring Campylobacter levels and implementing control measures. This has enabled a steady reduction of the pathogen in chickens.

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