The Food Standards Agency, sensibly, continues to target these organisms as part of its overall food-borne illness reduction strategy. Campylobacter they report is considered to be responsible for about 460,000 cases in the UK per year, 22,000 hospitalisations and 110 deaths. Listeria monocytogenes is thought to be responsible for around 180 cases with a fatality rate in the order of 30%.

We are continuing to see product recalls resulting from the detection of Listeria monocytogenes, the most recent recall from smoked fish . The Food Standards Agency has invited tenders for research on sources of Listeria as part of their Listeria Risk Management Programme.

And now the FSA has released some details on a refreshed strategy for reducing the number of people becoming ill from Campylobacter. No surprise since an FSA survey of chicken on sale in the UK (2007/8) indicated that 65% of chicken on sale in shops was contaminated with campylobacter. That means, to you and me, that nearly 7 our of 10 poorly defrosted or undercooked chickens will put your health at risk. And hands / equipment have a high chance of becoming contaminated and spreading the bacterium to other surfaces and food.

What is Campylobacter?

Campylobacter is a microscopic organism, a slender, spiral shaped bacterium, which is found in poultry, red meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water. Although it does not normally grow in food, it spreads easily and has a low infective dose so only a few bacteria in a piece of undercooked chicken, or bacteria transferred from raw chicken onto other ready-to-eat foods, can cause illness. In fact the “infective dose” is thought to be as few as a hundred cells or so, which makes cross contamination a real issue as it is quite easy to pick up such a small number, from a contamination source such as poultry, on the hands, equipment or food surfaces.

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