FSAI Advises on Need to Control Campylobacter Contamination in Poultry

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today stated that campylobacteriosis continues to be the most commonly reported foodborne illness in Ireland with 10 times more cases of campylobacteriosis being reported than salmonellosis.  Some 2,288 cases of food poisoning due to Campylobacter were recorded in 2013, compared to over 2,600 in 2014.* The FSAI noted the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) annual figures for foodborne illness published today which suggests that the campylobacteriosis figures across Europe have stabilised, but that is not the experience in Ireland.  The FSAI states that the figures recorded by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland are the highest since campylobacteriosis became legally notifiable in 2004 and requires cross industry and consumer responses to be undertaken to tackle the problem.  The FSAI would support setting a microbiological hygiene standard for poultry meat at European level.  This would create a maximum tolerance level for Campylobacter in poultry which could be reviewed over time.  A similar approach was adopted as part of European controls for Salmonella which proved successful.

According to Dr Wayne Anderson, Director of Food Science and Standards, FSAI, salmonellosis was a major issue in Ireland 15 years ago, but due to the efforts of the Irish industry to control and reduce Salmonella contamination in eggs and poultry there has been a radical decrease in its incidence and impact on public health.

    “A similar effort is now required to reduce Campylobacter infections which can be serious and life threatening in vulnerable people. For Salmonella control, regulations were put in place which set a maximum tolerance for Salmonella in raw poultry amongst other controls. There is a need to set similar tolerance levels for Campylobacter and this would drive new control measures throughout the food chain to reduce its occurrence,” he says. “If the industry from producer right through to retailer comes together to put in specific measures to reduce the level of Campylobacter on poultry like it did for Salmonella, it would have a positive impact on the number of people becoming sick.”

Campylobacter infections can cause acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea and/or vomiting, and can be severe and life threatening in vulnerable people, such as the very young, the old and those with any underlying health condition. Similar to all bacteria found naturally on meat and poultry, the danger posed by Campylobacter can be removed by thoroughly cooking products and by preventing cross-contamination between raw meat and ready-to-eat foods.  

In 2011, the FSAI Scientific Committee published Campylobacter: Recommendations for a Practical Control Programme for Campylobacter in the Poultry Production and Slaughter Chain which sets out a number of key recommendations to assist reduce the risk of campylobacteriosis from eating poultry.

    “In addition to a microbiological hygiene standard, we also recommend that chicken flocks are systemically and regularly tested for Campylobacter before they are presented for slaughter and from these data, poultry producers could improve their biosecurity to keep Campylobacter out of poultry houses. It would make sense that the processors and retailers would co-fund this testing programme. Ultimately, knowing the level of the bacteria within flocks can inform interventions to reduce its incidence,” stated Dr Anderson.

    “Leak proof packaging on chicken was a recommendation of our report that has been adopted widely and is to be welcomed.  Leak-proof packaging can provide a barrier to the spread of Campylobacter and retailers should source chicken products from producers using leak-proof packaging solutions.  Where chicken is sold in conventional packaging, retailers should review their food safety management systems to control the risk of Campylobacter spreading to ready-to-eat foods.  For conventional packaging, we would recommend that retailers consider providing specific bags to place the chicken in and therefore, better protect against leakage and cross-contamination,” added Dr Anderson.

Campylobacter is a naturally occurring bacterium found in the intestinal tract of livestock and poultry used for food production and can therefore, be transmitted through a variety of foods of animal origin, most commonly poultry meat.  The FSAI reminds caterers and retailers of their legal obligation to use good hygienic practices at all times to prevent cross-contamination between raw poultry and ready-to-eat food, to not wash raw poultry as this can spread contamination to kitchen surfaces, to always store raw poultry correctly, and ensure poultry is thoroughly cooked.

The FSAI also recommends that consumers should play their role too to protect themselves, by taking simple measures to avoid Campylobacter contamination.

    “Consumers can also protect themselves and prevent contamination of their food by being mindful of some key practices, such as: when shopping, designating a bag for packing raw poultry and raw meats only; always washing hands and utensils after handling raw poultry but never washing raw poultry meat or whole birds as this spreads contamination; storing raw poultry in the fridge separated from ready-to-eat foods; and always cooking poultry meat thoroughly, until there is no pink meat and the juices run clear”, Dr Anderson concluded.


* Provisional figures for 2014 reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.


European Union Summary Report on Trends and Sources of Zoonoses, Zoonotic Agents and Foodborne Outbreaks in 2013