20/07/2005 – UK-based food processors who use poultry in their products are likely to face more safety regulations after a government report singles out chicken meat as the largest contributor to Campylobacter infections in the country.
“Given the prevalence of Campylobacter in poultry, and knowing how easily pathogens can persist and spread in the domestic and catering environments, we believe that reducing the level of the organism in poultry meat is likely to make a significant contribution to the battle against human foodborne illness,” the advisory committee stated in a report to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The FSA has set a target of reducing the incidence of foodborne disease by 20 per cent by April 2006. Campylobacter is currently the biggest identified cause of bacterial infectious intestinal disease in the UK. A significant reduction in human campylobacteriosis would help the agency achieve its goal.
A 2001 FSA survey of raw fresh and frozen chicken purchased in the UK found 50 per cent of all samples tested were contaminated with Campylobacter. Campylobacter infection of chickens is not a problem peculiar to the UK. It is an issue of concern to a number of other countries, some of which were visited by the committee.
In a 2002 report, the committee identified evidence to suggest that improper handling and preparation of chicken is a contributing factor to the high incidence of Campylobacter infection. The new report looks at the handling of broiler chickens at slaughter houses, primary food processors and the rest of the supply chain.
“It is very important that industry grasps the nettle of controlling Campylobacter in primary production and processing because we do not regard it as reasonable to expect the problem only to be addressed further along the supply chain by consumers and commercial food handlers,” the committee stated.
The committee also recommends that any measures introduced by the FSA should also apply to imports. In 2002, the UK imported about 350,000
tonnes of poultry meat, of which about 45,000 tonnes was from outside the EU.
Campylobacter infection may cause sicknesses ranging from mild diarrhoea lasting 24 hours to severe illness lasting more than a week. The incubation period is typically two to five days. Long-term infection may lead to neurological, rheumatological and renal problems in humans.