Campylobacter – Your Questions Answered

What is it?

Campylobacter is a genus (group) of bacteria (single-celled organisms) which has a curved ‘S’ appearance or spiral shape. An ‘S’ shaped bacteria was found as early as 1886 and drawn by Dr T. Escherich and closely resembles what we now know as Campylobacter.

As diagnostics have advanced, identification of infection from campylobacter has improved which corresponds with the rise in reported cases since the mid 1970’s.

Thousands of strains have now been identified; two strains are known to be main causes of infection in humans; Campylobacter Jejuni (C. Jejuni) and Campylobacter Coli (C. Coli).

Where is it?

Campylobacter persists on a number of sources (food, environment, livestock, domestic pets), however, it is believed that the most common route of infection is through contaminated food.

Bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses, such as campylobacter, can grow in just about any food, but grow particularly well in high protein foods: meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products, as well as high-protein vegetables such as beans and grains.

Appropriate food handling, storage and thorough cooking will eliminate the risk of bacterial food poisoning.

What happens if someone is infected?

Symptoms usually develop over two to five days after ingesting the bacteria.

Infection can vary from mild diarrhoea to acute enteritis characterised by fever, headache, nausea, diarrhoea and cramping abdominal pain. Deaths are very rare. These symptoms usually pass after a few days, followed by recovery. Antibiotics are not often administered as diagnosis can take seven days and sufferers are usually recovering.

Infections can be avoided by observing food safety measures of correct handling, storage and cooking.

How can I avoid infection?

Cooking kills

Campylobacter will not survive thorough cooking (temperatures above 70°C). It is important that when cooking foods such as eggs, chicken, fish and pastry products, they are kept at this temperature or higher for a minimum of two minutes. It is essential that the centre of the product is adequately heated.

It is advisable to thoroughly defrost frozen poultry and meat before cooking.

Manufacturers' cooking instructions, where given, must be carefully observed.

Thermometers can be used to accurately measure the temperature during cooking.

When cooking poultry, skewer the thickest part of the meat (breast on a whole bird) to ensure that the juices run clear.

Once the food has been cooked, it must be eaten immediately or allowed to cool and placed in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Sandwiches, prepared salads and cold dishes should also be refrigerated as soon as possible if not for immediate consumption.

Storage

Fresh produce should be refrigerated as soon as possible. Refrigerators should be set at temperatures between 0°C and 4°C.

Cooked food must be stored at the top of the fridge and raw food at the bottom on a tray or a plate to prevent raw food from contaminating cooked food. Raw food can sometimes drip which could contaminate surfaces or food with bacteria.

All food should be covered or stored in sealed containers.

Hygiene

Cross-contamination must be avoided when handling raw food.

Care must be taken to prevent raw food dripping onto surfaces or other food. All utensils, crockery, work surfaces, chopping boards must be immediately washed (hot, soapy water, disinfectant) after contact with raw food.

Personal hygiene is important when handling raw food; touching raw food and immediately touching anything else without effectively washing hands can lead to cross-contamination.

What is Banham Poultry doing to reduce the levels of campylobacter?

A better understanding of food hygiene by all concerned with food preparation will prevent unnecessary illness.

Stringent measures are taken to control pathogens in poultry and Banham Poultry operate high levels of biosecurity. Today the poultry industry is more carefully regulated and managed than ever before. Government hygiene regulations are being revised and strengthened, and updated Codes of Practice backed by inspections are being followed by producers, processors, and retailers.

Banham Poultry remain committed to working together with industry stakeholders to develop an evidence-based approach to reducing the levels of campylobacter. Banham Poultry is working on a number of projects internally and with external partners including the Institute of Food and Research (IFR).

Quote from the Institute of Food Research

“Campylobacter is a bacterium that is often found in the gut of poultry and wild birds, and its presence generally does not harm the birds. Its presence in birds becomes a problem when Campylobacter ends up on the meat, and then a) if that meat is not cooked throughout, or b) the bacterium is spread in the kitchen environment through unhygienic practices.”

“It is well accepted that reducing the incidence of food-poisoning caused by Campylobacter is something that requires the combined efforts of regulators, producers, retailers, scientists and consumers. One of the areas where we still have insufficient knowledge is on whether Campylobacter can survive and spread within the factory environment, and whether particular strains have evolved mechanisms to allow them to persist within these environments. IFR and Banham Poultry are working closely together to determine whether Campylobacter can persist in the factory environment, and if so what particular survival mechanisms these strains have adopted. It is hoped this information will allow us to work with industry and other regulatory bodies to develop targeted control measures to reduce the level of Campylobacter within these environments.”

Arnoud H.M. van Vliet, PhD
Campylobacter Group leader
Institute of Food Research
Gut Health & Food Safety Programme

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