Danish Campylobacter infections mostly from chicken meat

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock. Campylobacter is the most reported foodborne pathogen in Europe
Picture: iStock. Campylobacter is the most reported foodborne pathogen in Europe

Related tags Chicken Food standards agency

Almost half of all Campylobacter infections in Denmark are caused by eating domestic chicken meat.

Consumption of this product continues to be the most important source accounting for 46% of infections, followed by cattle (beef, milk or direct contact), which makes up 19% of cases and eating imported chicken meat (9%).

Campylobacter is the leading cause of foodborne infections in the country. 

Infection estimates

A total of 4,677 infections were registered in 2016 but estimates suggest that for every registered case another 12 go unreported.

The National Food Institute estimates the actual number of Campylobacter infections was more than 55,000.

Researchers at the institute produced a report​ for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA/Fødevarestyrelsen) which shows what proportion of cases acquired in Denmark can be attributed to eight different food and environmental sources.

Results suggested that consumption of chicken meat is the most important source of exposure to C. jejuni, contributing with around 0.8 CFU in a random serving (95% CI 0-5.655) and nearly 70% of overall exposure at the population level,”​ said the report.

Source attribution figures are based on a data set collected by the DVFA, Statens Serum Institut (SSI) and the University of Copenhagen for more than two years.

Samples were analyzed using Multi Locus Sequence Typing (MLST).

Government and industry will use the data when designing the next Action Plan on Campylobacter.

The DVFA said based on SSI figures there had been almost a 10% decline in Campylobacter infection during the first 11 months of 2017 compared to the same period the year before.

This decline is due to an increase in registered cases in the last few years.

The agency said the increase might not be that more people are becoming ill but that SSI is getting better at targeting and finding infections.

Risk of getting sick from Danish chicken meat has fallen by more than 40% since 2013, it added.

High infection rates in Sweden

Campylobacter is the most reported foodborne pathogen in humans being detected in 246,307 people, an increase of 6.1% compared with 2015, according to the EFSA and ECDC annual report on zoonotic diseases.

Swedish authorities warned last year that risk of being infected by Campylobacter was unusually high.

Livsmedelsverket sampled fresh chicken in stores in May and found Campylobacter at such levels that could lead to illness. In follow-up sampling they found Campylobacter had decreased.

In autumn 2016 there were about five to six times as many disease cases reported than usual.

While this rate declined the number of reported cases was still about twice as many as usual in summer 2017.

Estimates suggest 4,000 more sick people were reported than normal from August 2016 to May 2017.

An external investigation, by experts from THL and Evira of Finland, is ongoing to help reduce the risks of similar peaks in the future.

UK contamination survey

The top UK nine retailers published results on Campylobacter contamination in UK produced fresh whole chickens (covering July to September) late last year.

The percentage of birds containing more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g) ranged from 0 to 9%.

It was the first time this data had not been published as part of a Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey.

The percentage of chickens positive for the pathogen declined from 73.2% in 2014/15 to 54% in 2016/17.

Heather Hancock, chair of the FSA, said it was a positive step towards transparency and openness in the food sector and reinforces public confidence in food.

“We welcome the ongoing reduction in contamination levels that these results indicate, and the resulting benefits to public health that retailers and processors have helped deliver over the last few years,” ​she said.

“'The FSA will continue to monitor the retailer results so that we can be assured that the significant progress made so far by this part of the food sector is maintained. Our resources will now be focused on smaller processors and outlets, to drive down contamination levels across the rest of the industry.”

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