Experience - and common sense - tells us that the better birds are cared for, the better the quality and flavour of the chicken they produce. All of our chicken comes from a group of carefully selected British farmers and suppliers who have worked with us for several years. They understand and share our values and our commitment to rearing our birds to the highest standards of quality and animal welfare.
Please remember not to wash raw chicken as the splashing water can spread campylobacter. Cooking your chicken thoroughly kills this bacteria.
Essential Waitrose British chicken
Chicken in the "Essential Waitrose" range is produced by farmers who have worked exclusively for Waitrose for several years. They understand the importance of quality standards in producing succulent chicken. They also feel as passionately as we do about standards of animal welfare. Birds are fed a diet enriched with maize which gives excellent eating quality, and are reared in purpose-built houses with large windows down each side to allow the natural light to stream in. They also have straw bales to play with to keep them fit and active.
The hens have 20 per cent more space than the industry standard, giving our birds the room they need to move freely. These standards meet the RSPCA's recommendations for stocking density and have the support of other key organisations such asCompassion In World Farming (CIWF) (this link opens a new window).
Free range British chicken
Our free range birds have unrestricted access to pasture during the day where they can forage and range. Chickens are descended from jungle fowl that naturally live in the undergrowth so we provide cover and shelters to make them feel protected and secure. At night they return to their houses for protection against predators. Free range birds are reared for longer, and the combination of the outdoor life and a balanced diet all help to ensure succulence and flavour, and a firmer texture. To learn more see the video on this page.
Free range corn-fed British chicken
This delicious and richly flavoured bird has a characteristically golden colour to the flesh, which comes from its maize based diet. The hens are reared in the same way as our other free range birds.
Free range Leckford Chicken
These birds are reared exclusively for Waitrose on our own Waitrose Farm on the Leckford Estate, where the high standard of free-range poultry husbandry ensures excellent quality and healthier, happier birds.
Owned by Waitrose for over 75 years, Leckford Estate is a 4,000 acre working farm spread around the banks of the River Test in the Hampshire countryside, and provides a rich variety of top-quality produce sold only in Waitrose stores.
The birds are from a naturally slow-maturing breed and are reared in a way that respects and encourages their natural instincts and behaviour as well as producing chicken that is tender, juicy and full of flavour.
Flocks are allowed to roam freely in their own dedicated open fields planted with trees and shrubs, with the space to scratch and forage at will, and perches both inside and out to explore and to roost on.
Leckford Estate is a member of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) which aims to combine the best of traditional and modern farming methods and ensure that they work in harmony with the environment.
Our regional Wiltshire and Dorset birds are reared in a similar way at East Clyffe Farm and Roosters Farm.
Organic free range British chicken
Waitrose organic chickens are reared from a slower growing breed, free to roam in organic pastures and fed an organic cereal-based diet. At night the birds return to their houses as a precaution against predators. The organic farms are regularly and independently audited by Organic Farmers and Growers.
How should Waitrose chicken be cooked?
Whilst all our chicken is protected from Salmonella it is good practice to follow Food Standards Agency guidelines and cook all chicken thoroughly until the juices run clear when pierced with a fork. To prepare chicken, before cooking, remove all packaging. Wash all work surfaces, cutting boards, utensils and hands thoroughly after touching raw meat. Do not reheat cooked chicken once cooled.
Enjoying chicken safely
Chicken is the most widely eaten meat in this country because it offers great value as well as being delicious and versatile. However, if handled without good kitchen hygiene or proper cooking, it can cause food poisoning. This is why you’ll see detailed on pack instructions pointing out that you shouldn’t wash raw chicken and should always cook it until the juices from the meat run clear.
Campylobacter is an organism sometimes occurring on raw chicken that can make you ill. It is destroyed by thorough cooking while good kitchen hygiene, such as not washing raw poultry – whether whole birds or pieces - avoids spreading the bacteria around kitchen surfaces. Campylobacter is the focus of a Food Standards Agency campaign that Waitrose is proud to support.
Waitrose ‘end to end’ Campylobacter Action Plan
Waitrose takes its commitment to reducing campylobacter very seriously and is a long-term supporter of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) efforts to eradicate the organism from the poultry supply chain.
We continue to only source our chicken from carefully chosen UK family farms we know and trust and we’re working hard to ensure that the poultry they supply are raised in the very best welfare conditions at low stocking densities.
In partnership with our processor, we are engaged in research to reduce Campylobacter from end to end in our supply chain – from farm to kitchen.
The Waitrose ‘end to end’ Campylobacter Action Plan
On farm - Our work on farm is focused on those areas we believe will have a significant impact on campylobacter levels. Specifically:
We have installed an industry-leading ‘double barrier’ enhanced bio-secure system in 100% of indoor poultry supply farms – we are the only retailer to have done this. Our own on farm research indicates that enhanced biosecurity is effective in limiting the spread of campylobacter.
Further to this, we have trained all our farmers and catching teams in biosecurity measures and installed communication boards in all our poultry houses, further enforcing communication and industry-leading Bio-Security practices. All farms are audited at every crop cycle by a central audit team to monitor compliance. This work is complete and is monitored through regular audits.
Days between ‘thin’ and ‘clear’:
Through on farm testing we have found that increasing the number of days between ‘thin’ (when a number of larger birds are removed from the flock) and ‘clear’ (when the whole flock is taken from the poultry house for processing) increases campylobacter levels. Initial findings on our farms indicate that there is an optimum period of time between these two operations. Based on these findings we are working closely with our supplier to investigate the best way to reach the optimum period. We are trialling this in flocks of different sizes. If significant improvement is found, this will be adopted across the supply base. This is a 12-week trial to monitor data and outcomes. If significant improvement is noted it will be adopted across the estate.
Farm and Shed Infrastructure:
Our studies indicate that there are lower levels of campylobacter in fan ventilated, steel-framed houses that are less than 15 years old. More than 70% of our supplying farms have houses that are less than 10 years old. Further to this all our new supply farms comply with our ‘farms of the future’ standards in terms of build type, drinkers, heating systems, farm access management, data capture, litter management and bird welfare standards. This work is complete and reviewed quarterly.
Our farmers and their teams receive regular training to ensure they operate to the very highest hygiene standards. Hygiene best-practice information boards have been put in place at all our supplying farms. This training is on-going and constantly reviewed.
Alternative Heating Sources:
There is some evidence to suggest that drier heating systems such as indirect heating sources / hot water heating systems can reduce the prevalence of campylobacter. However, research in his area is still at an early stage and we are using global benchmarking and on-going data analysis to determine the impact this could have. Biomass and indirect heating systems have been installed in 50% of our supply farms with continued investment in this area planned for 2015. Biomass installation will be completed across the estate by the end of 2015.
Benchmarking learning: We are working with researchers from the UK and internationally to share best practice in areas that we believe will bring significant benefit including improved management of water drinkers on farm and improved management of the environment in our chicken houses. This work is reviewed quarterly.
At the processor – the way birds are processed could have an impact on levels of campylobacter. We have focused on the following areas because we believe they offer the most significant benefit:
Our supply facilities operate to the highest hygiene standards and have optimised procedures including lairage, module crate washing and inside/outside washer efficacy. This work is complete and reviewed quarterly.
Neck flap removal:
We are removing the neck flap from processed birds as our research suggests that this is an area where campylobacter may become concentrated. The machine to do this work is installed at our factory and the process is underway. We will continue to monitor results and improve the process.
Packing Line Segregation:
Process flow changes have been implemented in the packing areas of all our supply factories to segregate unsealed and sealed packs. This minimises the possibility of campylobacter being transferred to the outside of packs. This work is complete and reviewed quarterly.
Rapid Surface Chilling and other in-line interventions:
This is a new technology – one of several we are experimenting with – that can be installed ‘in-line’ at the processing plant and is thought to reduce campylobacter levels before birds are packed. Rapid surface chilling uses Nitrogen gas to chill birds to a temperature that reduces the load of Campylobacter present on the bird.
This technology is as yet untested in a commercial environment however offline trials suggest that this technology could produce a meaningful reduction. Commercial trial design is underway, as the engineering challenges are significant. A trial is anticipated in late summer 2015.
We have a range of oven ready birds sold in a ‘ready to roast bag’ which are ideal for customers who would rather not handle raw chicken – we were pioneers of this approach. We are trialling other packaging options. Roast in the bag birds are available now while other packaging options are being trialled through April 2015.
Work with customers – we know that the way raw chicken is handled and cooked at home is key to food safety and that is why we have worked hard to inform customers of the importance of proper awareness in the kitchen:
Communication: We have communicated the safe handling of chicken message in-store, on pack and through our marketing channels including Channel 4’s Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose programme; Waitrose Weekend and Kitchen publications, on our website and across social media. This work is ongoing.
Work with industry – We play an active role in industry-wide research on campylobacter:
We have run our own in-house campylobacter workshops with Professor Chris Elliot - a leading expert on food safety – and representatives from the FSA. We will continue to work with leading experts and our suppliers to continually improve our approach to tackling campylobacter.
Members of our in house teams have sat on the FSA’s Joint Working Group on Campylobacter since it was established and will sit on the new Acting on Campylobacter Together Board (ACT) in the future. This work is on-going as required.
We believe that our extensive action plan gives us the best chance of tackling campylobacter from ‘end to end’ from farm to kitchen.