A report from Irish food safety officials aimed at poultry processors, producers and retailers has set out a series of measures to cut campylobacter contamination along the supply chain.
Slaughterhouse practices, an incentive scheme to reward reductions in incidences of the bacteria and recommendations on packaging types are all included in the guidance from Food Safety Authority Ireland (FSAI).
Campylobacter is the most common cause of gastrointestinal bacterial illness in across the EU – with poultry seen as a major reservoirs for the bacteria and a ”very significant vehicle for the transmission to humans”, said the report Recommendations for a Practical Control Programme for Campylobacter in the Poultry Production and Slaughter Chain.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) estimates that handling and preparation of chicken and consumption of undercooked chicken meat accounts for approximately 30 per cent of human cases, while 50- 80 per cent can be attributed to the chicken reservoir as a whole. The body found that 71 per cent of flocks presented for slaughter and 75 per cent of whole birds at the end of the slaughter process were contaminated.
The report suggest introducing a voluntary monitoring programme in slaughterhouses and on farms to alert operators when additional controls are needed and to enable them to assess the effectiveness of their control measures.
Microbiological targets in broilers (i.e. pre-harvest) and on carcasses (i.e. post-harvest) should be set, validated and reviewed regularly.
High standards of biosecurity and compliance with microbiological targets should be recognised through an incentive scheme. This could be a bonus or penalty scheme based on performance based criteria or the threat of being removed from the Bord Bia Quality assurance scheme for repeated breaches, said the FSAI.
Slaughterhouses that persistently fail to meet targets could be subject to a “comprehensive review”, it added.
Interventions and packaging
The study recommends a series on “interventions” to reduce Campylobacter on the final product. These include freezing, adjustment and monitoring of slaughtering equipment, hot-water treatment of carcasses, or even a combined steam and ultrasound process.
Use of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) should also be considered as tests have shown the right combination of gases can cut campylobacter levels.
It also recommends adoption of any packaging – such as oven-ready trays or cooking bags- that reduces handling of raw poultry.
Labels advising consumers that meat is ready-to-cook and that washing be avoided, should also be considered.