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We can beat the bugs

Our recently published study on infectious intestinal disease (IID) unearthed some worrying statistics. The research found that almost 17 million people suffer from episodes of vomiting, diarrhoea, or a combination of both, every year. And while it's easy to trivialise these symptoms, they can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives and for some, the consequences can be serious.
The main causes of IID are viruses, particularly norovirus. But campylobacter is the main cause of bacterial IID in the UK, and this study has confirmed we're right in making the reduction of campylobacter a priority.

The frustrating thing is that the majority of IID cases are preventable with good basic hygiene. But these unacceptable levels of illness are not going to be reduced without education – and for this we need investment, both in public health and scientific research.

We are working to find effective ways of preventing contamination of foods during production and processing, funding research to investigate better methods of controlling and reducing foodborne pathogens, and promoting good food hygiene practice in the kitchen – both commercially and at home.

In some of these areas we are working closely with the food industry, and we will continue to build partnerships to reduce the burden of responsibility. Working together, we have the scope to reduce the levels of disease.

Let me know if you have any suggestions on how we can tackle this problem.


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I belong to a group called the Tech HEds which is a Lego Robotics group, competing in the First Lego League.

For this year's competition, we had to choose an issue to do with food safety, and after doing some research we decided to focus on the problem of Campylobacter in chicken. We have read a lot of information on your website about Campylobacter in chicken and the work that is being done to make chickens more healthy.

We are looking at the problems of cross-contamination of chickens once they have been processed for food. Our solution is to:

Use High Pressure Processing to kill the bacteria in the raw chicken before it gets sent out to shops.
add a layer of packaging that contains polymers which change colour if bacteria is present to check that further contamination has not occurred

We could not find much information about High Pressure Processing on your website - does the Food Standards Agency have a policy on this?

Has the Food Standards Agency investigated using the new technology involving colour-changing polymers to provide a quck test for bacteria; particularly Campylobacter?

We would be very interested in your comments.

Posted by Roland Brown on October 18, 2011 at 10:40 AM BST #

Author comment

Dear Roland,
Thanks for your comments.

With regard to your first query about high pressure processing (HPP), some work has been done on the use of HPP of poultry meat. However, the process isn’t suitable for whole fresh birds and the work carried out so far on portions of chicken has resulted in significant impacts on the properties of the final product, meaning it would only be suitable for further processing. The FSA does continue to fund research, but this is focused on identifying and trialling other interventions elsewhere in the supply chain to help reduce contamination of poultry meat. Further work on HPP is being carried out by researchers in other countries, and we are awaiting the results of this work before considering whether further research is appropriate for the FSA.

With regard to colour change polymers, we haven’t done any research into colour change polymers for food packaging. Given that in the most recent FSA survey of chicken at retail found that campylobacter was present in 65% of the fresh chicken samples tested, at this point in time most packs would ‘fail’. As mentioned above, we are focusing on investigating potential interventions in other parts of the supply chain to reduce contamination, and we are working closely with the poultry industry and Defra to achieve this. This does include assessing the feasibility of a rapid on-farm test to help farmers with monitoring campylobacter, but we’ve not looked into a rapid test for retail packaging at this stage.

I hope this answers your questions. And good luck with the Lego challenge. Let us know how you get on!

Posted by Andrew Wadge on October 25, 2011 at 12:19 PM BST #

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