Campylobacter decreases but too early to suggest trend, finds EU report

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: EFSA. Listeria cases up while Salmonella and E.coli dropped
Picture: EFSA. Listeria cases up while Salmonella and E.coli dropped

Related tags Foodborne outbreaks Foodborne illness European union

Campylobacter has decreased slightly for the first time in five years but it is too early to suggest a downward trend, according to an EU zoonoses report.

Listeria food poisoning cases are increasing while Salmonella and E.coli dropped.

The number of overall reported foodborne outbreaks decreased compared with 2011, said EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Campylobacter most reported

Campylobacteriosis was the most reported disease in 2012, accounting for 214,268 cases of infections. The bacterium that causes the disease, Campylobacter, is mostly found in chicken meat.

Human cases of campylobacteriosis decreased slightly in 2012 for the first time in five years, but it remains the most commonly reported zoonotic disease.

Dr Valentina Rizzi, who works in the Biological Hazards and Contaminants (BIOCONTAM) unit at EFSA, said it is premature to suggest that it is the beginning of a downward trend.

“It is too early to give a judgement, one year is not sufficient as we don’t know the exact reasons, there are different factors that impact the decline or increase of the disease.

“We will have to wait until next year but in any case [the decline] is good news,” ​she told

Salmonella continued to be the most frequently reported cause of foodborne outbreaks with known origin, although the largest outbreak in 2012 was from Norovirus associated with frozen strawberries.

Pathogen and source

Most of the 5,363 reported foodborne outbreaks were caused by Salmonella (28.6%), bacterial toxins (14.5%), viruses (14.1%) and Campylobacter (9.3%).

The main food sources were eggs and egg products (22%), mixed foods (15.6%) and fish and fishery products (9.2%).

The outbreaks resulted in 55,453 human cases, 5,118 hospitalisations and 41 deaths.

Norovirus caused the largest foodborne outbreak in terms of human cases, in 2012, in which 10,950 people were affected.

Rizzi said Norovirus was not included in the main report as it is not a major pathogen in food, it is difficult to address and control implementation measures and Salmonella and Campylobacter are more important pathogens.

She added that work on the virus will be done to understand more about the source.


Salmonella cases in humans have continued to fall, decreasing for the seventh consecutive year.

Over the years, salmonellosis has been decreasing, with 91,034 reported cases in 2012. This is due to the successful Salmonella control programmes by EU Member States and the European Commission in poultry, the report said.

“Salmonella is a success story of collaboration between Member States and the Commission but efforts must continue to monitor it in Member States,” ​said Rizzi.

“Our reporting is a good sign of surveillance and monitoring at a Member State level.”


The trend in reported human cases of Listeria has been gradually increasing over the past four years.

Listeriosis accounted for 1,642 reported cases, 10.5% more than in 2011 and has been increasing over the past five years.

Listeria monocytogenes was mostly found in ready-to-eat fish and meat products (smoked fish or sliced ham).


5,671 confirmed verocytotoxigenic E.coli (VTEC) infections were reported from food and animals, which was a decrease of 40% compared with 2011​.

Of the cases in which the serogroup was known, most were caused by O157, followed by O26 and O91.

However, the EU trend for VTEC infections during 2008–2010 was increasing even without the 2011 data and the case numbers increased in 2012 compared with 2010.

The report covers 11 zoonotic diseases or microorganisms, including verocytotoxin-producing E.coli, Mycobacterium bovis, ​brucellosis, trichinellosis, Toxoplasma, rabies, Q fever, and for the first time - West Nile fever.

When asked about pathogen typing using Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) and other methods such as whole genome sequencing (WGS), Rizzi said: “PFGE is still the gold standard, there are a lot of rules harmonised around the world and many laboratories have implemented it.

“In the future other methods such as WGS may become the gold standard but work is needed and we are not yet ready. Protocols are not standardised and work is needed to show how to store and manage data.”  

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