13/04/2012 05:29 BST

One In Five Chickens Are Contaminated With Food Poisoning Bacteria

If your favourite meat is chicken, you might want to look away now – as a damning food study has revealed that one in five supermarket chickens contain potentially deadly food poisoning bacteria.

The study, conducted by watchdog consumer group Which? discovered 18% of chickens plucked from nine leading supermarkets were contaminated with campylobacter (a bacteria that causes food poisoning, mainly found in raw poultry, red meat and unpasteurised milk).

And it doesn’t stop there, as a further 17% contained listeria (a rare but potentially life-threatening disease that causes severe gastroenteritis and sometimes septicaemia blood poisoning) and 1.5% were contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

The supermarkets under the watchdog’s spotlight were Aldi, Asda, The Co-operative, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose.

The study involved testing 192 samples of whole chickens and chicken portions - from standard, free range and organic varieties that had all been reared in the UK.

Bacteria were found in chicken samples from each of the food retailers.

Although the statistics are worrying (campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK), between 2000 and 2009 the annual number of laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis more than doubled from 114 to 234, although this dropped in 2010 to 174.

Talking about the disturbing findings, Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd said in a statement: "While the situation is improving, it is still unacceptable that one in five chickens we tested were found to be contaminated with campylobacter.

"We want to see the risk of contamination minimised at every stage of production, because for far too long consumers have been expected to clean up mistakes made earlier in the supply chain."

Adding to this, British Poultry Council chief executive Peter Bradnock said: "This report makes clear that chicken is a safe and healthy product when properly cooked.

"These welcome findings show a big reduction in campylobacter presence on chicken, demonstrating the effectiveness of the biosecurity measures being taken by producers and processors against this naturally occurring bacteria.

“The British poultry industry is committed to working with consumer groups, government and retailers to ensure chicken is safe and healthy, and remains Britain's favourite meat."

These worrying statistics following a separate study in the US, which found that nearly half of packaged, raw chickens were contaminated with E.coli bacteria - from faeces.

The study by the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM) discovered that 48% of chickens bought in 10 major cities in the US were infected with bacteria.

“Most consumers do not realise that faeces are in the chicken products they purchase,” said Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of the group, reports the New York Times.

“Food labels discuss contamination as if it is simply the presence of bacteria, but people need to know that it means much more than that.”

However, not everyone is moved by these findings, with the National Chicken Council in the US blasting the findings as misleading.

Ashley Petersen from the society said in a statement: “These findings, not a ‘peer reviewed’ study, are another misleading attempt by a pseudo-medical group to scare consumers in hopes of advancing their goal of a vegan society.”

Chicken contamination hit the UK headlines earlier this month after it was discovered that chickens could be to blame for female urinary tract infections (UTIs).

The study, conducted by a team of scientists at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, challenged the long suspected belief that urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by a person’s own E. coli bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

When researchers investigated further, they discovered that E. coli found in poultry was strikingly similar to those found in women.