Campylobacter Background:

Campylobacter is a less commonly known organism that has quickly become an emerging hot topic in food microbiology in recent years due to various recalls, news articles and evolving government regulations. Surprisingly, this genus of spiral-shaped, microaerophilic bacteria is the most commonly reported bacterial cause of gastroenteritis from foodborne sources in the United States, outranking E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and other more well known microorganisms.  

Knowledge of this organism and its public health implications can be traced to 1886 when Theodore Escherich, the renowned German-Austrian scientist, observed it in children with diarrhea. In 1913, the celebrated researcher John McFaydean and his associate, Stewart Stockman, first identified Campylobacter in the fetal tissue of aborted sheep.  Campylobacter was not isolated and actively tested for in human stool specimens until the early 1970s. Soon after, it was designated as a human pathogen. 1

These microorganisms colonize the intestines of animals and are primarily found in wild birds, rodents, poultry, cattle, raw milk and natural water sources. Mishandling of raw poultry, undercooking of raw meats and consumption of contaminated milk are the leading causes of human infection.  Campylobacter causes Campylobacteriosis, also known as Campylobacter enteritis or gastroenteritis, in humans.  Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli are the primary species of Campylobacter that cause human disease, and it is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that over 1 million cases of illness caused by this bacteria occur annually in the U.S.

Public Health Agency Campylobacter control efforts over the past 20 Years:

The CDC has tracked the incidence of Campylobacter infections since 1996 through FoodNet, a detailed surveillance system that studies and trends infection risk factors. The data has shown a slight increase in the incidence rate of infections caused byCampylobacter over the past decade.

In addition, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), a collaboration among CDC, FDA, USDA, state health departments and public health laboratories, has been tracking changes in antibiotic resistance among Campylobacter in humans, retail meats and food animals since 1998.

New Campylobacter testing requirements were introduced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2011 requiring FSIS verification check samples to be tested for both Salmonella and Campylobacter (previously testing was only required for Salmonella). Establishments deemed to have issues with Campylobacter are expected to have controls in place to address this pathogen.

Towards the end of 2014, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) released proposed new changes to Salmonella andCampylobacter Performance Standards.  The Salmonella and Campylobacter changes will affect chicken parts, including:  breasts, legs and wings, and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey. These changes, since microbial levels increase as poultry is further broken down into parts, were made to address poultry products that are most commonly found in consumer kitchens (previous standards were developed to test whole poultry-whole chicken and whole turkey products). FSIS has extended the comment period for the Federal Register notice until May 26, 2015. The new standards will be finalized and implemented at some point after this date. Additional information on the proposed changes can be found on the USDA’s website found here.

Mérieux NutriSciences can assist you with your testing needs by providing the most current industry approved rapid testing methodologies available. We offer various validated (AOAC, USDA) methods for both qualitative and quantitative analytical testing ofCampylobacter in addition to a technical support staff to help with sampling procedures, regulatory, and data management needs. Contact us to learn more about our testing services!


1   Altekruse, Sean F., Norman J. Stern, Patricia I. Fields, and David L. Swerdlow. “Campylobacter Jejuni-An Emerging Foodborne Pathogen – Volume 5, Number 1-February 1999 – Emerging Infectious Disease Journal – CDC.”Campylobacter Jejuni-An Emerging Foodborne Pathogen – Volume 5, Number 1-February 1999 – Emerging Infectious Disease Journal – CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, Feb. 1999. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

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