More than two thirds of supermarket chickens are now infected with E.coli, a study has found.
Roughly 78% of fresh chicken sold at supermarkets in England tested positive for an antibiotic-resistant strain of E.coli. Meanwhile in Scotland, 53% of chickens were infected compared to 41% of produce in Wales.
It is thought that a large number of chicks are being given antibiotics to stop them contracting bugs, which has resulted in E.coli evolving to become resistant to drugs over time.
The new study, conducted by experts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs department and Public Health England, found that more chickens are contaminated than previously thought.
Researchers tested fresh chickens – 80% of which were of UK origin – from a range of high street supermarkets.
While a previous study found that one in four supermarket chickens was contaminated with the bug, the latest study shows the problem is far more common.
Researchers said this particular strain of E.coli isn’t responsible for causing food poisoning, however it is thought that the bacteria could remain in the gut and, when someone later develops an infection, they may not respond to life-saving antibiotics.
In response to the findings, Dr Mark Holmes, reader in microbial genomics and veterinary science at Cambridge University, told the Daily Mail: “People do get food poisoning and every time someone falls ill, instead of just getting a food poisoning bug they might also be getting a bug that is antibiotic-resistant.
“If they end up developing sepsis or a urinary tract infection they may well find they have a bug that is resistant to the first-choice antibiotic.
“By the time they get on to the right antibiotic the bug could be out of control. It can even lead to death.”
A government spokesperson told The Huffington Post UK: “This study by Public Health England concluded that this type of E. coli does not represent a major public health risk in the UK – a view supported by the Food Standards Agency.
“As ever, cooking meat properly kills all bacteria, whether or not it is resistant to antibiotics.
“We take both food safety and antibiotic resistance very seriously. This is why we support the work of the FSA to make sure our food is safe, and why we are working with countries around the world to reduce antibiotic use in people and animals.”