When consumers purchase chicken from the grocery store, they could be bringing home more than just a drumstick. Campylobacter has crept its way up the charts to become the top bacterial cause of reported foodborne illnesses in the United States. Move over, Salmonella! But how does Campylobacter infiltrate the food supply, and why is it seemingly on the rise? We’ve answered five need-to-know questions about Campylobacter below:
1) Where is Campylobacter found?
The bacteria Campylobacter lives in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, namely poultry and cattle. This bacteria can be found in raw meat such as beef, lamb and pork or unpasteurized dairy products. However, Campylobacter is particularly prevalent in poultry because the method of slaughter without proper sanitation can cause it to spread from the intestines onto the meat cuts sold in the grocery store. According to a study conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) in 2011, Campylobacter was found in 47% of raw chicken samples bought in grocery stores.
2) What happens to humans who eat a food item carrying this bacteria?
When humans ingest the Campylobacter bacteria, they contract the disease Campylobacteriosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites the symptoms of Campylobacteriosis as diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever within two to five days of initial exposure. Symptoms will clear up in three to six days in most cases. However, for elderly people, young children or anyone with a weakened immune system, Campylobacteriosis poses a risk of worse sickness and even a threat of death. In rare cases, it also poses a risk of neurological disorders, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome.
3) How frequently does the bacteria make people sick?
According to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), In 2016, Campylobacter was the culprit in 8,547 cases of reported foodborne illness in the United States, while Salmonella caused 8,172. Even more cases go unreported. The problem also extends beyond America. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists Campylobacter as one of four key global causes of diarrhoeal diseases.
4) How can manufacturers and consumers prevent illness caused by Campylobacter?
Sanitation and proper cooking techniques are integral to preventing humans from eating contaminated food. Cooking effectively kills Campylobacter bacteria, so meat should always be cooked thoroughly to the recommended internal temperature to prevent those who eat it from getting sick. Farmers may use antibiotics on animals to help prevent the disease, although there have been concerns in recent years about the bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. At the point of slaughter, a proper equipment sanitation system should be in place to minimize the spread of bacteria. All dairy products should undergo proper pasteurization during manufacture.
Additionally, those cooking in a restaurant, retail location or at home should ensure that any surfaces touched by raw meat are properly sanitized before preparing other parts of a meal in the same area. Even a small amount of juice from a package of chicken can transmit the bacteria to a raw vegetable accompanying the dish, a cheese slice being added to the top or a piece of bread for the side. Also be sure to immediately and thoroughly wash any cutting boards or utensils used to prepare raw meat with soap in warm water.
5) What government systems and regulations are in place surrounding Campylobacter?
The CDC created a system to track cases of foodborne illnesses in 1996 called FoodNet. This surveillance system monitors and reports on cases of Campylobacter. A collaboration between the CDC, FDA, USDA and state health departments, called the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, focuses on tracking the antibiotic resistance of Campylobacter in food animals, humans and retail meats alike. There is some concern that over time, new strains of Campylobacter will evolve to resist antibiotics, which will make it more difficult and expensive to prevent.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also conducts regular Campylobacter verification testing on poultry. The agency takes samples as frequently as once per week from establishments producing young chicken and turkey carcasses as well as raw chicken parts to test for the bacteria. The facilities are then assigned a rank based on their adherence to the Performance Standards for Poultry. These standards set forth the percentage of samples from a facility that can test positive for the bacteria.
Are you a meat manufacturer or processor looking to reduce the risk of Campylobacter entering your supply chain? Mérieux NutriSciences can assist with your Campylobacter testing needs to help ensure the safety of your processing environment and finished products. We offer various rapid AOAC and USDA validated methods for the qualitative identification and quantification of Campylobacter in raw and processed poultry and meat as well as dairy and environmental samples.
Meet the Author
Social Media Specialist, Mérieux NutriSciences
Paige Krzysko is the Social Media Specialist for Mérieux NutriSciences and, as such, she works with several departments across the organization on their food safety communications. One of her main interests in the food industry is how federal regulations affect food production. She’s worked in communications for five years and earned her Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.