Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and the bacteria is responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year.
It’s invisible to the naked eye, odorless and cannot be tasted on food, yet it can kill and costs the UK economy approximately £900m.
About four in five cases of Campylobacter poisoning in the UK come from contaminated poultry.
Results from the study including samples taken between 2013 and 2016 have been published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, and include the findings of an earlier EU-wide survey identifying that some slaughterhouses were better at removing Campylobacter species from broiler carcasses compared with others.
“In recent years we have seen reports that campylobacters are present in around 75% of supermarket chickens. And with an increasing focus on the reduction of the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, hygienic practices in poultry processing play a key role in reducing contamination,” said Clare Taylor, senior lecturer, Medical Microbiology, Edinburgh Napier University and general secretary, Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM).
“The authors of this study have identified a number of key interventions that could reduce Campylobacter contamination and improve food safety.”
The research published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology outlines how reductions in campylobacter levels could be made through cost effective changes in farming best practice.
Mike Hutchison, who managed the study at the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Sciences said an initial model to predict numbers of campylobacters on broiler carcass neck skins after chilling determined that more than three times the variance observed in slaughterhouses was explained by on-farm factors.
“It is likely that farm-based interventions would be more financially and practically effective in lowering flock colonizations by campylobacters,” he added.
For the independent farms, bird gender, age at slaughter, shed size and the shed frame construction material were significant predictors of numbers of Campylobacter in litter.
The report shows:
• Houses containing exclusively female birds had lower Campylobacter levels compared with sheds containing male gender birds. Mixed gender sheds also tended to have significantly lower counts.
• If prebiotics were fed to birds, the mean log10 count was increased by 1.400 (p < 0.001).
• It established freezing chickens (Haughton et al. 2012) and chicken meat (Harrison et al. 2013) can lower numbers of Campylobacter
• The presence of darkling beetles in the litter was significantly correlated with elevated Campylobacter numbers
• Farmers that excluded their dogs from the houses had significantly decreased numbers of Campylobacter species in the litter
• Increasing the frequency of dipping boots in disinfectant was significantly correlated with lowered numbers of Campylobacter species in house litter