FSAI call for more action on Campylobacter.

‘…could be as many as 25,000 cases of campylobacteriosis annually in Ireland.’

‘Cross-contamination from raw poultry is how it manages to infect…’

Sligo News File Online.

Of all infectious diseases which must be notified to health authorities in Ireland, one of the most frequently reported is Campylobacter infection, surpassing influenza and some hospital acquired infections, states the Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority, Alan Reilly, writing in FSAI News.

Professor Alan Reilly, CEO, Food Safety Authority of Ireland
Professor Alan Reilly,
CEO, Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Describing it as Ireland’s number one cause of foodborne illness, Professor Reilly states that “so far this year almost 2,500 cases have been identified, ten times more than those caused by Salmonella. Given that actual cases far exceed reported cases, we estimate that there could be as many as 25,000 cases of campylobacteriosis annually in Ireland. The number is steadily rising year after year.

“Campylobacterosis is a nasty infection, which typically lasts a week. Summer is the peak period, with children under four the group most affected. Sufferers develop diarrhoea or bloody diarrhoea, and often develop severe cramping and abdominal pain, coupled with fever, within two to five days after exposure to the organism. Nausea and vomiting are also common. Although complications are rare, infection is associated with reactive arthritis, Reiter’s syndrome or Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). Approximately one in 1,000 cases leads to a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barré  Syndrome.

“The organism does not grow in food, but food is the most common source, with poultry the primary reservoir. A very low dose is enough to cause illness. Even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat can contain enough Campylobacter to make a person ill. Results from the most recent FSAI survey of Campylobacter in retail chicken shows that about 50% of products harbour the bacteria. Cooking easily destroys it, but cross-contamination from raw poultry is how it manages to infect so many of us. It might be argued, therefore, that good hygiene practices in the home or the catering sector should be enough to provide protection. However, this alone has not proven enough, as evidenced by the increase in reported cases year-on-year. It is equally valid to argue that elimination of Campylobacter from poultry would be a far more successful strategy. Clearly consumer behaviour in the home cannot be the sole means of prevention.

“In 2011, the FSAI Scientific Committee issued its second report on Campylobacter: Recommendations for a Practical Control Programme for Campylobacter in the Poultry Production and Slaughter Chain. If we are to tackle Campylobacter infection effectively, then more action is required by poultry farmers,
slaughter plant operators and retailers, as well as consumers.

“The adoption by retailers of leak proof packaging on chickens was a welcome improvement. Current media campaigns to remind consumers not to wash poultry before cooking also helps to raise
awareness of the danger of cross-contamination. The industry, however, needs to do more.

“Flocks should be systematically tested for Campylobacter before they are presented for slaughter. These results need to be communicated back to producers. How can poultry producers improve the biosecurity needed to keep Campylobacter out of poultry houses unless they know the Campylobacter status of their flocks? Processors and retailers should come together to fund this testing programme as the burden cannot be borne by the producer alone. It is also time to incentivise change and for retailers to pay bonuses for Campylobacter-free flocks as they do elsewhere in Europe. This will drive improvement and reward those who are serious about keeping Campylobacter out of their flocks. Little will happen without some sort of financial incentive, and vital and immediate changes are necessary to combat Campylobacter infection.

“A significant research project, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and headed by University College Dublin and Teagasc, is currently underway and focusing on the
practicalities of control options. Other challenges still remain to be tackled, in particular improving biosecurity on the farm. This is where Government could play a crucial role. Money needs to be found to fund an advisory service for poultry producers. This could, for instance, be tied into grant aid to help producers upgrade poultry housing which will strengthen biosecurity so that farmers can stay
in business and produce a safer product for consumers. It is also time to consider setting in national legislation, an appropriate and challenging process hygiene microbiological criterion at the end of
slaughter, as recommended in the 2011 FSAI report. This will set a target for the improvement of slaughter hygiene.

“There are many players on the pitch, all with a role to play in reducing Campylobacter infection. As 2015 approaches we need to focus on tangible action. The time for talking is over and the consumer deserves better.”