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.
FSA Campylobacter Survey Results Year 3, Q1 (August 2016 to December 2016)
Waitrose is pleased with the results of the Food Standards Agency Campylobacter Survey on the prevalence of the organism in fresh chicken during August to December 2016, which shows continued significant reductions.
The results for the first quarter of year three of the survey, published today (Tuesday 14 March 2017) show Waitrose had just 5.2% of chickens testing positive with levels of campylobacter >1000 cfu/g (colony forming units). Waitrose was the best performing supermarket for overall prevalence of the organism and according to our own tests, none of our packaging tested positive for campylobacter.
A Waitrose spokesperson said: "Our own results show only 5.2% of our chickens testing positive for the highest levels of Campylobacter during August to December 2016. This is well below the FSA’s target of 7% and we are very pleased with the results which demonstrate the effectiveness of our comprehensive Farm to Fork Campylobacter Action Plan.”
The FSA also published its data for year two of the study – July 2015 to March 2016. This showed Waitrose with the lowest prevalence of Campylobacter overall out of those supermarkets eligible for inclusion in the survey, and the best performer for levels >1000cfu/gram.
A Waitrose spokesperson added: “We believe that very positive outcome from the year two data underlines our consistent commitment to tackling Campylobacter.”
Our work on Campylobacter
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 only source our chicken from carefully selected UK family farms that we know and trust and we continue to work 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 have developed a cutting edge end to end process to reduce Campylobacter in our supply chain.
The Waitrose ‘end to end’ Campylobacter Action Plan
On farm - Our work on farm is focused on those areas that have had the most significant and consistent impact on Campylobacter levels. Specifically:
We have installed an industry-leading ‘double barrier’ enhanced bio-secure system on all of our poultry farms. Our strategy has been holistic in terms of biosecurity before, during and after the rearing cycle to minimise the risk of Campylobacter colonisation of our birds.
In addition, 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 every crop cycle by a central audit team to monitor compliance. We regularly monitor compliance in this area.
Days between ‘thin’ and ‘clear’:
Through a non-invasive method of on farm testing we have found that increasing the number of days between ‘thin’ (when a proportion of birds are removed from the flock) and ‘clear’ (when the whole flock is taken from the poultry house for processing) increases the risk of Campylobacter colonisation at higher levels.
Farm and Shed Infrastructure:
Our investigations have shown that there are lower levels of Campylobacter in chickens that live in fan ventilated, steel-framed houses that are less than 15 years old; the vast majority of our farms have broiler houses that are less than 10 years old. Further to this, all our new supply farms comply with our ‘farms of the future’ standards. Our ‘farm of the future’ project involves work around ensuring we source chicken from the most forward thinking suppliers in terms of investment in new, cleaner buildings, drinkers, heating systems, farm access management, data capture, litter management and bird welfare standards.
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.
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 across our supplying farms.
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.
At the processor:
The way birds are processed has 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.
Neck flap removal:
We remove the neck flap from processed birds as our research suggests that this is an area where Campylobacter may become concentrated.
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.
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.
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:
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 Waitrose Food publications, on our website and across social media. We will continue to highlight the best ways of handling raw chicken.
Work with industry – We play an active role in industry-wide research on Campylobacter:
We run our own in-house Campylobacter workshops with Professor Chris Elliot - a leading expert on food safety – and representatives from the FSA.
Members of our in house teams sit on the FSA’s on Campylobacter Together Board (ACT)
We believe that our extensive action plan has driven our success in driving down Campylobacter levels in our chicken from farm to kitchen.