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Know what Campylobacter is? It makes us sick more often than Salmonella does

Here’s how you can avoid getting sick.

Image: Shutterstock/Viktor1

YOU’VE PROBABLY HEARD of Salmonella, but what about Campylobacter?

You might not know what it is, but according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), campylobacteriosis continues to be the most commonly-reported foodborne illness in Ireland.

(Foodborne illness? That’s the dreaded food poisoning to you and I.)

There are 10 times more cases of campylobacteriosis being reported than salmonellosis: 2,600 cases of food poisoning due to Campylobacter were recorded last year, up from 2,288 in 2013.

Campylobacter infections can:

  • Cause acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea and/or vomiting
  • Be severe and life threatening in vulnerable people, (like the very young, the old and people with an underlying health condition).

Stable in Europe

shutterstock_208194421 Source: Shutterstock/decade3d - custom anatomy

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) released figures that suggest the campylobacteriosis figures across Europe have stabilised, but the FSAI says that isn’t the experience in Ireland.

It says that figures recorded by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland are the highest since campylobacteriosis became legally notifiable in 2004.

The FSAI said it would support setting a microbiological hygiene standard for poultry meat at European level, which would create a maximum tolerance level for Campylobacter in poultry, which could be reviewed over time.

Dr Wayne Anderson, Director of Food Science and Standards, FSAI, said that salmonellosis was a major issue in Ireland 15 years ago. But due to the efforts of the Irish industry to control and reduce Salmonella contamination in eggs and poultry, there has been “a radical decrease in its incidence and impact on public health”.

If the industry from producer right through to retailer comes together to put in specific measures to reduce the level of Campylobacter on poultry like it did for Salmonella, it would have a positive impact on the number of people becoming sick.

The danger posed by Campylobacter can be removed by thoroughly cooking food, and by preventing cross-contamination between raw meat and ready-to-eat foods.

The FSAI recommends that chicken flocks are systemically and regularly tested for Campylobacter before they are presented for slaughter.

“It would make sense that the processors and retailers would co-fund this testing programme. Ultimately, knowing the level of the bacteria within flocks can inform interventions to reduce its incidence,” stated Dr Anderson.

The FSAI recommended leak-proof packaging on chicken in 2011, which has been adopted widely.

Where chicken is sold in conventional packaging, retailers should review their food safety management systems to control the risk of Campylobacter spreading to ready-to-eat foods.

How can you avoid Camplobacteriosis?

Campylobacter is a naturally-occurring bacterium found in the intestinal tract of livestock and poultry used for food production. It can be transmitted through a variety of foods of animal origin, which the FSAI says is most commonly poultry meat.

Caterers and retailers have a legal obligation to use good hygienic practices at all times to:

  • prevent cross-contamination between raw poultry and ready-to-eat food
  • not wash raw poultry as this can spread contamination
  • always store raw poultry correctly
  • ensure poultry is thoroughly cooked

Dr Anderson says that consumers can take simple measures to avoid Campylobacter contamination.

  • When shopping, have a bag for packing raw poultry and raw meats only
  • Always wash hands and utensils after handling raw poultry
  • Never wash raw poultry meat or whole birds as this spreads contamination
  • Store raw poultry in the fridge separated from ready-to-eat foods
  • Always cook poultry meat thoroughly, until there is no pink meat and the juices run clear.

Read: Put down that glass of raw milk, say Ireland’s food safety experts>

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