EFSA Advises on Campy Reduction in Chickens

EU - EFSA's BIOHAZ Panel has published a scientific opinion assessing the public health impact of control measures which could be used to reduce the occurrence of Campylobacter in chickens and chicken meat. The experts also evaluated how reduction targets for Campylobacter in chickens in the European Union may lead to a fall in the number of human cases of campylobacteriosis associated with the consumption of chicken meat.
calendar icon 8 April 2011
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EFSA's opinion will help risk managers in setting measures to reduce campylobacteriosis, the most reported food-borne disease in Europe.

Campylobacteriosis accounted for 198,252 human cases notified in 2009 in the EU. However, this disease goes largely unreported and the effective number of cases is believed to be around nine million each year. The cost of campylobacteriosis to public health systems and to lost productivity is estimated to be around €2.4 billion each year across the EU.

Chickens are an important source of campylobacteriosis in humans. Chicken meat, in particular, accounts for 20 to 30 per cent of total human cases. In the opinion, the BIOHAZ Panel experts evaluated the impact of measures that could help reduce the presence of Campylobacter in chickens before and after slaughter.

EFSA's experts say that measures before slaughter could reduce the risk by up to 50 per cent, although this figure is expected to vary considerably between Member States. Such measures focus mostly on preventing the bacteria from entering the housing in which the chickens are kept and on reducing the number of Campylobacter in the intestines of chickens sent to slaughter. The experts also listed a series of additional options which were found to be effective when implemented in conjunction with these measures. These options include: using fly screens, reducing the age at which chickens are sent to slaughter and discontinuing thinning practices (as humans entering chicken housing may carry bacteria from outside).

Possible other measures for risk reduction in the meat production chain include for instance: cooking on an industrial scale or irradiating the meat, which are both likely to destroy all Campylobacter that may be present on the meat; and freezing carcasses for two to three weeks, which would reduce the risk by more than 90 per cent. Freezing carcasses for short periods of time (two to three days) or treating chicken carcasses with hot water (at 80°C for 20 seconds) or with chemicals, such as lactic acid, was estimated to reduce the risk by between 50 and 90 per cent.

The opinion also gives an indication of how setting reduction targets for Campylobacter in chickens in the EU would reduce the risk of contamination for humans. For instance, if no more than 25 per cent of chicken flocks in each Member State were to test positive for Campylobacter, the number of human cases would be reduced by half. If this target were to be further lowered to only five per cent of chicken flocks, the risk for humans would drop by 90 per cent.

In addition, setting limits for the number of Campylobacter per gram of fresh chicken meat could reduce, depending on the value, the public health risk by up to 90 per cent.

The experts specify that control options should be selected on the basis of their efficacy in achieving the different targets and/or microbiological criteria that could be set. A series of recommendations is also listed in the opinion. These include: the need for further studies to verify the effectiveness of control measures under field conditions; studies to investigate specific measures for chickens reared outdoors; and research to assess the overall effect of combining various measures at different stages of the production chain (from rearing to consumption).

For further information from EFSA, click on the links below:

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