'Poultry farms are not operating theatres' – chair of Campylobacter group

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Campylobacter causes more than 2,250 lab confirmed cases each year in Ireland. Picture: ©iStock/Magone
Campylobacter causes more than 2,250 lab confirmed cases each year in Ireland. Picture: ©iStock/Magone

Related tags: Food safety, Foodborne illness

Development of a bio-security protocol for growers, new post-harvest interventions, educating consumers and enhanced surveillance were areas identified by a group put together to reduce Campylobacter risk.

The Campylobacter Stakeholder Group was started in July 2015 including representatives of farmer-growers, the four processors in Ireland and major retailers.

It featured Moypark, Bord Bia, Shannonvale Foods, Western Brand, Musgraves, Aldi, Tesco, Lidl and Iceland among others.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) provided advice and said the group’s report and industry commitment to tackle the problem was an ‘important step’ towards reducing the number of people who get sick.

‘Poultry farms and processing facilities not operating theatres’

Poultry farms and processing facilities are not operating theatres and raw chicken meat on retail sale will never be a sterile product, said Professor Patrick Wall, chairman of the group. 

“Therefore the strategy to reduce the exposure of the public to this germ is one of incremental risk reduction along the entire supply chain coupled with communication of the residual risk and how to manage it to the public,” ​he said.

“It is only by adopting risk-based controls, and continuously evaluating the efficacy of interventions, the level of contamination in flocks and on finished product and the incidence of disease in humans, that real progress will be made.”

Campylobacter colonise the avian intestinal tract and proliferate at temperatures around 37°C to 42°C.

It grows under microaerophilic conditions with low oxygen; so, the intestinal tract of commercial broilers is a favourable environment for its growth.

Campylobacter eradication ‘not possible’ in short to medium term

Michael Creed, the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, said food safety and protecting public health are ‘non-competitive issues’ and it is only when everyone works together that real progress is made.

“In the short to medium term it appears that it will not be possible to eradicate Campylobacter completely from the national poultry flock so in addition to risk reduction measures along the food chain awareness campaigns for consumers are essential to ensure poultry is handled correctly during preparation of meals to prevent people falling ill.”

Creed said it is supportive of a proactive approach to raising standards above legal requirements and ensuring public health and the reputation and brands of Irish companies are protected.

“Many of the measures introduced to tackle Campylobacter will deal with other agents that may affect human health and the heightened biosecurity measures on farms will also help protect the birds from other diseases​,” he said.

“Surveillance and monitoring are key to identifying the full extent of the problem and checking on the efficacy of interventions. Standardising sampling and laboratory protocols are important if results are to be comparable on different sites and at different stages of the supply chain.”

Campylobacter is the commonest cause of bacterial food poisoning in Ireland with more than 2,250 laboratory confirmed cases each year since 2013.

Ireland is not self-sufficient in poultry with a large proportion of chicken used in the food service sector being imported.

Campylobacter control strategies in broilers fall into three main groups: pre-harvest phase (farms); harvest phase (catching and transport) and post-harvest phase (during processing, at retail and in commercial and consumer kitchens).

There are no standard monitoring programmes across the industry, no standard sampling protocols on farms, in processors or in retailers and no standard protocols used by commercial laboratories.

Chemical treatment is not permissible under EU law but physical treatments such as steam, ultrasound, crust freezing are allowed.

Modified atmosphere packaging, leak proof packs and cook in the bag are being used to reduce the risk of cross contamination in the consumer’s kitchen.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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