High poison levels in British chickens

BRITAIN has one of the worst records in Europe in a key area of food safety - the contamination of chicken by food-poisoning organisms, writes David Nicholson-Lord.

A survey in 14 European countries found only Denmark and Portugal had higher levels of salmonella contamination than the UK. Of 160 UK samples tested, 36 per cent were contaminated. The figures for Denmark and Portugal were 51 and 48 per cent respectively.

In Norway and Sweden all samples tested were salmonella-free.

A similar picture emerged in tests for camphylobacter, an organism whose incidence has increased in recent years and which now causes more diarrhoeal disease in the UK than salmonella. UK tests showed 41 per cent of samples contaminated. Only four countries - Portugal, France, Slovenia and The Netherlands - had worse records.

Greece and Norway performed best on camphylobacter tests. No Greek chicken and only 1 per cent of Norwegian samples were contaminated.

Both organisms can cause serious stomach illness and, in rare cases, death. Since a shopper cannot be certain that a purchase is uncontaminated, Which?, the magazine of the Consumers' Association, which carried out the investigation with International Consumer Research and Testing, advises them to treat all chicken as suspect 'until the Government and the industry get serious and clean up chicken production'.

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