EFSA rates Campylobacter-busting techniques

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union Food standards agency Photosynthesis

Introduction of post slaughter irradiation, industrial cooking or carcass freezing by processors would all slash levels of campylobacter in poultry, said the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

These were just some of the conclusions delivered by Parma-based body as part of its opinion on ways to control and reduce the presence of the bacteria which it estimates hits nine million humans annually at a cost of €2.4bn.

Last year, EFSA estimated around 80 per cent of chicken carcasses on the European Union market are contaminated with Campylobacter, a figure it described as alarming. The UK Food Standards Agency has declared tackling the bacteria as its number one food safety goal.

While the scientist tabled the raft of measures for post slaughter, they also noted: “The public health benefits of controlling campylobacter in primary broiler production are expected to be greater than control later in the chain as the bacteria may also spread from farms to humans by other pathways than broiler meat.”

Irradiation, cooking and freezing

Based on data from four countries, scientists from the body’s Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) panel outlined the most effective methods in combating the ubiquitous bacteria both in primary production and processing. Campylobacter jejuni and C. were considered as equivalent for the purpose of risk assessment.

The experts evaluated the correlation between reductions of colonising forming units (cfu) and cutting the health risk to humans. For processors, they assessed cutting campylobacter on the carcasses by 1 log10-unit, would reduce the public health risk by between 50 and 90 per cent. Reducing counts by more that 2 log10 units would reduce this risk by more than 90 per cent.

The experts highlighted the introduction of irradiation would or industrial cooking after slaughter would “eliminate public health risk”​ as long as recontamination was prevented.

However, while 100 per cent reduction offered by irradiation is clearly the most effective method, its take up in Europe has been curtailed by lingering consumer suspicion over its safety. As EFSA noted earlier this week in backing the safety of process, the amount of food irradiated in Europe remains small.

The scientists said long-term freezing – meaning between two and three weeks - of carcasses would reduce the public health risk by more than 90 per cent while short-term freezing lasting for 2-3 days would see the risk reduced by 50 and 90 per cent.

Hot water and chemicals

Another post slaughter technique that would have a significant effect on campylobacter reduction is the treatment of carcasses by water at 80°C for 20 seconds which would also reduce bacterial risk to public health by between 50 and 90 per cent.

Chemical applications, such as lactic acid, acidified sodium chlorite, or trisodium phosphate could cut campylobacter numbers by between 40 and 90 per cent - compared to using just water. Leaving the substances on the carcasses may also boost their efficacy further, said EFSA.

“Of these control options for reducing carcass concentration, freezing, hot water carcass decontamination and chemical decontamination are directly available from a technical point of view,”​ said the BIOHAZ panel. “It should be noted, however, that chemical decontamination is subject to approval in the EU and that currently no chemicals are approved for use.”

To read the full opinion click HERE

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