Controlling Campylobacter in Broiler Flocks

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK has been developing an action plan against Campylobacter food poisoning sine 2003, writes ThePoultrySite senior editor, Chris Harris.
calendar icon 17 June 2009
clock icon 5 minute read

In 2007, the UK saw 333.650 cases of Campylobacter food poisoning recorded, costing the country and the food and poultry industries an estimated £500 million.

The FSA has now set itself a target to reduce Campylobacter in UK produced chicken by 50 per cent by next year.

Speaking at a recent British Poultry Council seminar on Campylobacter and food safety, Kathryn Callaghan from the FSA said the agency has been developing an on-farm strategy promoting biosecurity and particularly looking at the role the catchers play, when the birds are moved from the houses to slaughter.

She said that this was one time when Campylobacter could enter the flocks.

"Biosecurity continues to be the focus, but biosecurity won't be the only way to keep Campylobacter out of the shed," she said.

A project jointly funded by the FSA and the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs was launched in March last year.

The plan was to use a systematic approach to reviewing the existing data, and finding a defined procedure that was reproducible and that removed selectivity and bias.

The study by the FSA looked at 5,148 different references on Campylobacter between 1980 and 2008.

One of the key findings in the research was that the greatest risk of Campylobacter entering a broiler house was through human traffic and associated equipment.

The research showed that basic hygiene steps such as changing boots and hand washing could help to reduce the rate of infection within a flock by up to 50 per cent.

However, Dr Callaghan said that the efficacy of biosecurity measures was generally unknown, but the cost effectiveness drawn from analysis of the published data shows that it would cost about £3 per house to achieve a one per cent reduction in risk.

Case Studies

As part of the study, the FSA also looked at three different companies that were representative of a large proportion of the UK industry and they carried out eight farm assessments to determine the extent of on farm testing for Campylobacter and to assess the typical on-farm biosecurity standards that were being adopted.

The study found that one of the three companies used dedicated boots on the farm but there were problems with foot dips as mud and muck often contaminated the dips.

"Of all the biosecurity measures recommended in the FSA booklet Biosecurity for Housed Broilers, boot dips are the one most often abused," said Dr Callaghan.

All the houses had hand sanitisers but they had problems in controlling visitors on the farms.

Two of the farms had problems with keeping pets away from the hen houses but all eight farms employed specialist pest control contractors.

Best Practice for Biosecurity

Dr Callaghan said that to ensure that biosecurity on poultry farms is optimised, best practice has to be implemented consistently.

In particular farmers have to ensure:

  • the appropriate use of foot dips
  • the use of hygiene barriers – simple lines differentiating clean from dirty areas
  • the need for a change of clothing, and
  • hand washing

Best practice biosecurity must also be extended to catchers particularly at the time of thinning the flocks and farms must address the lack of facilities for catchers.

She said that the FSA and the industry has to work together to monitor the data on the effectiveness of biosecurity measures and also monitor the effect that incentives such as bonuses will have on the prevalence of Campylobacter.

The industry also has to develop methods for determining compliance and there is a need to develop on-farm test to detect flock positivity.

Strategies also have to be developed for dealing with biosecurity breaches during thinning and when the catchers are in the flocks.

She said there was still a need to provide evidence of the on-farm risk factors and the sources of Campylobacter.

There is also a need to undertake more on-farm trials using organic acid treatments as additives to water or feed, which could be a potential short-term strategy.

Further research into bacteriophages and bacteriocins as a commercial treatment needs to be carried out and will as investing into research into vaccination against Campylobacter.

The FSA is publishing a report on the current research this Spring and together with the BBSRC and Defram a Campylobacter strategy workshop is to be held shortly.

June 2009

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