Campylobacter is one of the most common bacterial causes of diarrheal illnessin the US. Contamination can lead to costly recalls for the food industry and adamage to a brand.
Since these bacteria are commonly found in the digestive tracts of swine, cattle and poultry,they're readily deposited onto trucks and trailers when the animals are transported to processing plants. Getting livepoultry to processing plants also involves confining the birds in transport coops for long periods.
US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) microbiologist Mark Berrang and food technologist JulieNorthcutt found that it's possible to reduce Campylobacter during poultry transport and processing with simple measures. But "simple" doesn'talways translate into "immediately feasible," they stated in publishingtheir research.
The research team found that feces from Campylobacter-positive birds can contaminate the feathers and skin ofCampylobacter-negative birds later placed in the same soiled transport coop. Allowing the coops to dry for 48 hoursbefore reuse dramatically lowered Campylobacter numbers.
But since this approach is economically and logistically impractical, the scientists plan to explore ways to redesignthe coops to make them easier to clean. Washing coops with water and disinfectant can reduce theCampylobacter levels, but it isn't reliable and doesn't eliminate themicrobes, stated Berrang.
The second critical contamination point occurs during an early step inprocessing - feather removal. While, overall processing decreases Campylobacter numbers on carcasses, this step increases them.
To control the microbes, processors must work against this jump in numbers throughout the rest of processing.
Berrang and Northcutt said their research shows that the Campylobacter increase is caused by the escape of highly contaminated fecal matter from the birds' lower gut during feather removal. They are now investigating methods to minimize the source of contamination.
Campylobacter are foodborne pathogens that can be present in raw or undercooked poultry. These bacteria cause mild tosevere diarrhea and fever in humans, and can sometimes result in the secondary, neurological condition known asGuillian-Barre syndrome.
About 15 cases are diagnosed each year for each 100,000 persons in thepopulation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP).That adds up to about 2.5 million cases per year. Although Campylobacterdoesn't commonly cause death, it has been estimated thatapproximately 100 persons with Campylobacter infections may die each year, theCDCP says.