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Control of Campylobacter - FSVO

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Control of Campylobacter

Campylobacter is a bacterium found in the gut of animals that causes gastrointestinal disease in humans. Two research projects were started in response to the rising incidence of the disease in the population. One project looked at ways of reducing the contamination of poultry carcasses, the other investigated the best way of drawing consumers’ attention to the risks associated with cooking poultry.

The bacterium Campylobacter occurs in the gut of many animals but does not necessarily cause them to fall ill. If a person becomes infected with Campylobacter, on the other hand, this develops into a gastrointestinal disease. The number of cases reported in humans has risen steadily in recent years. It is assumed that there is also a large number of unidentified cases. Poultry meat is the major source of infection for humans. Action is required at all levels of the value-added chain if campylobacteriosis is to be controlled.


The impact of poultry slaughtering technology on slaughtering hygiene in large facilities, with a special emphasis on Campylobacter

Several studies have shown that incorrectly cooked poultry is the most common cause of campylobacteriosis, a gastrointestinal disease that leads to abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever and fatigue. Better hygiene when fattening chickens are slaughtered would reduce the bacterial burden in poultry meat. Studies in swine and cattle have shown that the extent to which slaughtered animals and meat are charged with bacteria depends on the technology used in the abattoir. If abattoirs are to monitor hygiene independently in future, the critical stages of poultry slaughter with respect to hygiene must first be identified. A cost-benefit analysis was performed to establish the stages at which there is potential for optimisation and those at which it makes more sense to monitor hygiene.

The bacterial burden of fattening chickens was investigated at all stages of the slaughtering process in three large-scale poultry-slaughtering facilities: scalding, plucking, evisceration, washing and refrigerating. Ninety fattening chickens from each of 30 flocks were analysed at each stage. A different Campylobacter burden was found in each of the three facilities. The differences can be explained by the temperature and duration of the scalding process. The scalding process thus presents an opportunity for reducing the Campylobacter burden of slaughtered fattening chickens.

The results of the study were input into the revision of the ordinances relating to the food legislation (Federal Council decision on 16 December 2016). For example, a threshold limit for the presence of Campylobacter in poultry at the end of the slaughtering process was defined in a process hygiene criterion in the hygiene ordinance. This obliges slaughtering facilities to monitor the contamination of poultry with Campylobacter during their self-monitoring of the production process and to initiate appropriate measures if the threshold is exceeded, such as improvements to slaughtering hygiene or measures to reduce germs.


What am I actually eating? Perception and understanding of food safety

In addition to slaughter-house hygiene, kitchen hygiene plays a major role in the control of campylobacteriosis. But how much do people know about the risk of developing campylobacteriosis, and do they know how to prevent it? A social research study was carried out to find out how consumers perceive the safety of raw poultry products and how they handle these products. An initial pilot brochure was produced to see how user-friendly and comprehensible information about correct kitchen hygiene needs to be in order to be perceived by target groups.

The study identified three key aspects relating to the handling of raw poultry products that need to be included in a prevention campaign. These are:

  • better perception of the risk presented by Campylobacter;
  • better knowledge of how Campylobacter can be transferred from one product to another;
  • the correct approach to kitchen hygiene in situations with greater hygiene requirements, such as Chinese fondue and barbecues.

It was found that the hygiene rules set out in the brochure can certainly promote the safe handling of the respective foods by less experienced individuals. The findings from this study will now be implemented in the FSVO hygiene campaign.