A food bug that causes 55,000 people to fall ill every year is present on 65 per cent of chicken on sale in the UK, research showed today.
Campylobacter, which causes diarrhoea, cramping and abdominal pain, was found in almost two thirds of chicken samples tested, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) found. Salmonella was in 6 per cent of samples.
The illness, which can be prevented by properly cooking meat, usually lasts one week, although some people don't show any symptoms.
Those with compromised immune systems are at risk of the bug spreading to the bloodstream and causing a life-threatening infection, according to the US-based Center for Disease Control.
The levels of campylobacter in chicken remain almost unchanged since the agency's last survey in 2001 and Andrew Wadge, director of food safety at the FSA, said it showed more action needs to be taken by the poultry industry.
He said: "The continuing low levels of salmonella are encouraging, but it is disappointing that the levels of campylobacter remain high.
"It is obvious more needs to be done to get these levels down and we need to continue working with poultry producers and retailers to make this happen.
"Other countries like New Zealand and Denmark have managed to do so, we need to emulate that progress in the UK."
Campylobacter is the most common bacterial cause of food poisoning, according to the FSA.
As well as chicken it can be found on other meat, unpasteurised milk, and untreated water.
Cooking chicken properly all the way through and avoiding cross contamination with other food will stop the bug spreading, the agency said.
*The FSA tested 3,274 samples of fresh chicken at retail across the UK between May 2007 and September 2008 for the presence of campylobacter and salmonella.