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Decline in UK campylobacter cases

New figures from UK surveillance bodies show a 17% decline in the number of laboratory reports of human cases of campylobacter in 2016 [1]. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates that there are 100,000 fewer human cases of campylobacter overall. Achieving this reduction is estimated to lead to a direct saving to the economy of over £13m in terms of fewer days off work and NHS costs.

Levels of campylobacter in chicken continue to decline, as demonstrated in the first set of results from the FSA's third year survey of campylobacter on fresh shop-bought whole chickens, published recently. The results for the first five months of the third retail survey, from August to December 2016, show:

• Overall, 7% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination

• Among the nine retailers with the highest market share, 5% of chickens tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination.

The results demonstrate a decrease in the number of birds with the highest level of contamination compared to the same months in 2015 and 2014. The new data show 7% of chickens tested positive for the highest level of contamination, down from 12% for the same period in 2015 and 20% in 2014. Research has shown that reducing the proportion of birds in this category will have the biggest positive impact on public health.

The percentage of chickens from the nine retailers with the highest market share (representing over 80% of chicken sales) that tested positive for campylobacter within the highest band of contamination is 5%.

Progress has been made by the larger processing plants, supplying the major retailers, towards reaching the target that was agreed with industry to reduce levels of the most heavily contaminated birds at slaughter to not more than 10%.

However, overall the industry has not yet met this target. This is partly because the smaller independent plants (which tend to supply smaller retailers) have yet to make similar improvements.

The percentage of chickens that tested positive for the presence of campylobacter at any level is 56%, down from 66% in 2015 and 78% in 2014. This includes samples with very low levels of campylobacter, which would be unlikely to cause illness.

The FSA is changing the way it monitors levels of campylobacter on chickens at slaughterhouse level by ending the monitoring programme in its current form.

This will not impact on the retail survey, which will continue to be reported and will be the method by which the large processors and retailers will be measured. In order to focus on the processors that are not making significant improvements (generally the small-medium sized poultry plants), the FSA is developing plans to target specific sites with FSA inspections.



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