The survey, which was conducted by consumer watchdog Which?, discovered that 18% of the whole chickens and chicken portions it tested were contaminated with the pathogen – a figure the FSA and the British Poultry Council (BPC) have defended.
Which? tested a total of 192 products from nine UK supermarkets in March 2012.
Of the tested products, 17% were also found to be contaminated with Listeria and 1.5% with Salmonella.
Bacterial contamination was found in samples from each of the nine major UK retailers, which included Aldi, Asda, the Co-operative, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.
Both the FSA and BPC have defended the findings, referring to the results of a 2009 FSA-commissioned study that found Campylobacter on 65% of tested fresh chicken at the point of sale.
“The levels of campylobacter found in the Which? survey are lower than we have seen in previous findings,” said a FSA spokesperson.
The FSA added, however, that it would be difficult to make comparisons between the surveys.
“Tackling campylobacter is a key priority for the FSA. We’re working closely with the poultry industry to reduce the risks.”
“At retail level we are encouraging more use of leak-proof packaging and will be looking at the potential of Modified Atmosphere Packaging for reducing bacterial levels on raw chicken. At the present time, as there is no single solution that will solve the problem of campylobacter, we have to find ways of reducing the risk of cross-contamination at every stage of the food chain.”
The British Poultry Council, which represents the UK poultry meat sector, backed the FSA statement.
“This new survey shows a big reduction in campylobacter presence on chicken demonstrating the effectiveness of the biosecurity measures being taken by producers and processors against this naturally occurring bacteria which is present in all live animals,” said British Poultry Council (BPC) CEO Peter Bradnock.
Following publication of the study, Which? executive director Richard Lloyd issued a call for an increase in pathogen-preventive measures.
“While the situation is improving, it is unacceptable that one in five chickens we tested were found to be contaminated with campylobacter,” said Lloyd.
“We want to see the risk of contamination minimised at every stage of production, because for far too long consumers have been expected to clean up mistakes made earlier in the food chain,” he added.