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Controlling Campylobacter in the Chicken Meat Chain

18 June 2013

NETHERLANDS - A critical limit of 1,000 Campylobacter bacteria per gram of chicken would reduce the number of human disease cases by two-thirds, according to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

Campylobacter bacteria are among the most important causes of foodborne disease in the Netherlands. Approximately 30 per cent of all cases of illness are attributed to the consumption and preparation of broiler chicken meat.

This mainly concerns cross-contamination in the kitchen from chicken meat to product that are consumed raw, like salads, and to a lesser extent under cooked meat. Research by RIVM has shown that a large point of these illnesses can be prevented if the number of bacteria on chicken meat after industrial production is reduced.

Recently, there has been increased attention for hygiene in the farm to fork production check including slaughterhouses. In this context, the Dutch government intends to limit the level of Campylobacter bacteria on chicken meat, a so-called 'process hygiene' criterion. If higher levels are repeatedly found, the slaughterhouse needs to improved processing hygiene RIVM has evaluated the impact of different (more or less stringent) criteria, both on public health and on the costs for the poultry industry.

A critical limit of 1,000 Campylobacter bacteria per gram would reduce the number of human disease cases by two-thirds. The costs to the poultry industry to meet this criterion (estimated at €2 million per year) are considerably lower than the averted costs of illness (approximately €9 million per year).

Authors of the report are A.N. Swart, M.J.J. Mangen and A.H. Havelaar.

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