2 Sisters Food Group is leading the largest and most comprehensive programme to tackle campylobacter ever undertaken by the UK poultry industry.
The business has launched a £10m initiative, with contributions from its retail partners, into reducing campylobacter levels in poultry; far exceeding anything the sector had previously invested.
The multi-intervention plan, touching all stages of the supply chain from farm to end consumer, aims to reduce campylobacter levels at each stage, and provide industry insight into the best ways to tackle the naturally occurring bacteria.
The programme encompasses all the farms supplying the business’s processing facility in Flixton, as well as a testing regime on the birds across every farm in East Anglia and Lincolnshire. It will ultimately draw data from a throughput of more than 300 million birds.
By working with industry experts and academics, 2 Sisters has also identified and enacted all the key measures that it believes could have a positive effect and applied them collectively across one of its major sites. No other processor has gone this far - choosing to only enact parts of the potential options.
Ranjit Singh, CEO of 2 Sisters Food Group, said: “I’m very proud that we are helping to lead the fight against reducing campylobacter levels in chicken. This is the second year that the group has had campylobacter reduction as one of our key objectives and this is reflected by our performance in the recent survey which shows our results are better than the sector average. But we are not standing still - we need to go further.
“The desire to reduce levels from both us as processors and our retail partners is overwhelming, and the data we’ll be able to capture will go some way to helping us understand the best and most efficient ways to tackle this issue.
“There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to eliminating campylobacter. However, we are ready to take the fight to this bacteria and make sure we ultimately win the battle."
Steve Wearne, Director of Policy at the Foods Standards Agency, added: “I welcome this significant intervention by 2 Sisters Food Group. Campylobacter makes 280,000 people ill each year and there is no single solution to the problem. The sort of integrated approach being undertaken by 2 Sisters is, I believe, the best way to tackle this long standing problem. I look forward to seeing the results of this work in the future results of our ongoing survey into levels of Campylobacter in chicken on retail sale.”
2 Sisters’ can reveal its approach includes:
• Farmer training and incentive scheme –
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The business has written an industry leading biosecurity policy and trained every farmer that supplies us on how to implement it. This includes barrier biosecurity, changing footwear and clothing between every shed of chickens and investment in new covered foot dips which prevents dilution of disinfectant. There is also now a financial incentive offered to farmers to ensure they use industry-leading practices; world-class bio security measures and first-class animal husbandry and flock management techniques, which can all contribute to lowering campylobacter levels. In addition the business has a dedicated auditor visiting and helping farmers comply. Since implementation of the farm interventions 2 Sisters managers are reporting back that the birds’ welfare is being enhanced by the additional space and stronger biosecurity measures.
• No ‘thinning’ –
Scientific evidence suggests campylobacter levels in birds can increase when indoor birds are ‘thinned’ - a practice of removing a proportion of a flock for slaughter ahead of the final slaughter if the remaining birds a week later at heavier weights - a potential break point in biosecurity.
By not thinning flocks, the science suggests campylobacter levels are substantially reduced, eradicating or reducing the problem at a very early stage
• Blast surface chilling and secondary scalding -
Both these techniques are designed to kill campylobacter when the birds are being processed in the factory. One uses low temperature to kill the bacteria, the other heat.
• Packaging innovations –
2 Sisters is introducing ‘oven-ready’ packaging for whole chicken which cuts down the need for washing, handling and therefore reducing potential spread of the bacteria in the kitchen.
• Labelling –
2 Sisters believes that clear and simple labelling instructions – such as ‘there’s no need to wash this chicken’ reinforces recent FSA advise on good hygiene practice and will cut down the risk of camploybacter spreading.