The Food Safety agency (FSA), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have, for the first time, tabled a common strategy to investigate the foodborne pathogen. The project is also being backed by the Northern Ireland Department for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Scottish Government.
The bodies said the need to pool resources and use the estimated ₤4m-per year funding for Campylobacter research had become even more important in the face of recent cutbacks in public spending by the new UK Government.
Vital food safety issue
Last month, the FSA declared that Campylobacter is the single most important food safety issue facing the UK today. The bacteria is estimated to account for almost a third of all food poisoning cases – at 300,000 a year in England and Wales alone, 15,000 of which result in hospitalisation. A recent study by the agency found that 65 per cent of raw shop-chicken was contaminated with the bug.
The organisations stressed there was “no single magic bullet” to deliver the overarching aim of slashing the prevalence of campylobacter and that numerous research projects would need to be carried out across the entire food chain.
The plan - UK Research and Innovation Strategy for Campylobacter in the food chain – highlighted the importance of working with producers, processors and retailers. A joint forum between the British Poultry Council (BPC), the FSA, Defra and the British Retail Consortium is already examining the contribution the meat processing industry can make.
“While this group is mainly focused, at this stage, on possible measures during processing, there is a clear need for more scientific research, particularly on routes of transmission, to identify effective prevention and controls at the farm level,” said the British Poultry Council.
One set of studies will focus on potential actions in poultry transport, slaughter and processing practices. Projects will examine whether current biological and engineering interventions, as well as supporting aids, such as the slaughterhouse hygiene tool, have had any success in cutting campylobacter in retail products or in reducing cross-contamination of carcasses in the slaughterhouse and during processing. Cost benefits will also be assessed.
The effect of the mechanical processes on contamination, such as line speed and evisceration equipment, and whether cost effective modifications are possible, or practicable, will also be scrutinized. The evaluation and cost-effectiveness of such safety processes as steam, hot water, organic acids, treated processing water, decontaminants and other antimicrobial treatments, in an industrial setting will also be studied.
“One significant potential consequence of the reduction of levels on-farm, or more importantly an increase in the number of Campylobacter-free flocks, is that slaughter houses could channel/ schedule flock slaughter batches based on reliable prevalence data, thus reducing the potential for cross-contamination and the need for further antimicrobial interventions,” added the report.
No magic bullet
“There is no one magic bullet to solve the problem of campylobacter, but a better understanding of the science will allow us to work out which combination of solutions are best for the UK,” said Liz Redmond, FSA veterinary director and head of food hygiene policy. 'This is the first time such a multi-agency research strategy has been agreed, with clear joined-up objectives aimed at delivering a more coherent evidence base targeting better food security.”
Read a copy of the strategy by clicking HERE