Almost a fifth of tested meat contained high levels of the bug, which can cause severe vomiting, diarrhoea and in extreme cases, leave suffers bed-bound for weeks.

 

The most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, campylobacter affects around 280,000 people in Britain each year. The bacteria are more difficult to reduce than salmonella, even with good hygiene practices and biosecurity.

 

Hygiene experts, who tested around 4,000 samples of raw meat bought from supermarkets, butchers and other retailers between February 2014 and February this year, advise that with careful cooking, bacteria can be destroyed and the meat made safe to eat.

 

However, 7 percent of meat packaging was also found to be harbouring the bacteria, which could contaminate other food products if carried together in shopping baskets or stored alongside it.

 

The worst big retailer offender in this recent study was ASDA, with over 80 percent of its samples found to contain campylobacter, followed by the Co-Op, which racked up 78 per cent, then Morrisons with 76 per cent, and Waitrose with 74 per cent. Of the big retailers, Marks and Spencer and Tesco had lower rates, of 67 per cent.

 

The Food Standard Agency praised some retailers for taking on board their advice and successfully reducing levels of campylobacter in their meat products, after targeting chicken producers for over a decade in a bid to improve hygiene levels and reduce risk.

 

M&S, the Co-op, Waitrose and Morrisons all saw a drop in bacteria levels since implementing methods to clean up their supply chains.

 

Food Standards Agency direct of policy, Steve Wearne, said more needed to be done to reach industry targets:

 

“We expect all retailers and processors to be achieving the reductions we have seen in these retailers’ figures - that’s the only way we will meet the target we all signed up to.”

 

Around 40 per cent of the meat consumed in the UK is poultry, with around 2.2 million chickens eaten every day.