Supermarkets 'must act on food bug'
Supermarkets should make a joint stand and show consumers they are serious about a potentially fatal food poisoning bug by taking a "more visible and co-ordinated industry wide approach" against the problem, a leading consumer group said.
Which? has written to the UK's seven major supermarkets to demand they take more action to tackle campylobacter, a bacteria which can be found in chickens and lead to serious illness.
The group has called on Asda, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose to make publicly available plans for how they will tackle campylobacter, along with clear timeframes for when this will happen.
In its letter to the supermarkets, sent today, Which? says that almost six weeks have passed since the Food Standards Agency (FSA) released data showing "scandalously high levels" of the bacteria in chicken, and that "consumers need reassurance that supermarkets are taking this seriously and doing all they can to address the problem".
Some 30,000 people have signed a Which? campaign to make chicken safe, and the organisation said 60% of consumers were concerned about high levels of campylobacter in supermarket chickens, with 75% saying they thought they were too high.
Half of consumers were unhappy about the amount of information about campylobacter levels in chicken.
The letter adds: " While we welcome the progress made so far, we urge you to take a more visible and co-ordinated industry wide approach so that consumers can be confident that everything possible is being done to tackle this potentially fatal bug.
"We have previously been in touch with your teams and are calling for every major supermarket to publish a plan of action by the end of January and to make this publicly available and published on your website, with a timeframe for taking action."
The plan should include both immediate and planned interventions along the food chain, Which? said, such as incentivising farmers to improve controls to the use of blast surface chilling, to reduce levels of campylobacter as quickly as is feasible.
Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: " Six weeks on from the revelation of scandalously high levels of campylobacter in chicken, the supermarkets still haven't told consumers how they will tackle this potentially fatal bug.
"People need reassurance that supermarkets are doing everything they can to make chicken safe. The retailers must publish their plans and commit to action now."
Only a third of people have heard of campylobacter, the consumer group said, compared to 94% of consumers being aware of salmonella and 92% having heard of E.coli.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said food safety was retailers' "top priority" and that initiatives such as leak-proof and oven ready packaging, safe handling information on labels, websites and in in-store magazines had been introduced to help people understand the risks and minimise contamination.
He said: " Retailers, farmers and processors have been working with the FSA and Defra for many years as part of the joint government and industry Campylobacter Working Group and millions have been invested into researching solutions for eradicating the bacteria.
"The group has been very effective in bringing together all the important links within the supply chain to work collaboratively, minimise duplication and make maximum use of available resources.
"The group provides a forum for best practice and lessons learned to be shared and implemented quickly amongst businesses. There is no single solution to reduce campylobacter and the joint work has resulted in some interventions being rolled out across the supply chain."