Around 80 per cent of chicken carcasses on the European Union market are contaminated with Campylobacter, according to a region-wide baseline survey by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The bloc’s food safety watchdog described the finding as “alarming” – and said the research had also discovered that the prevalence of broiler batches colonised with the bacteria is “very high”. Only Cyprus, Estonia and the Nordic countries were exceptions, said the agency.
The body said the research – carried out across all but one EU member states plus Norway and Switzerland – confirmed poultry meat was an “important source of foodborne transmission of human campylobacteriosis” and a “significant vehicle for exposure of the European consumer” to the bacteria.
The study also found that on average Salmonella was detected in almost 16 per cent of chicken carcasses in 22 EU countries. The two bacteria are the two most reported foodborne illnesses in the region.
The study took place from January-December 2008 and involved 10,132 broiler batches sampled from 561 slaughterhouses in 26 EU states, as well as the two non-member states.
The caecal contents of 10 slaughtered broilers from each batch were examined for Campylobacter. Furthermore, from the same batch one carcass was collected immediately after chilling and the neck skin together with the breast skin was examined for the presence of Campylobacter and Salmonella, and to in addition to determine Campylobacter counts. At least one Campylobacter isolate was speciated from each positive sample and also at least one isolate serotyped from each Salmonella-positive sample.
The bacterium was found in the intestines of 71 per cent of chickens, indicating that they were already infected when alive, and on 76 per cent of sampled carcasses, which suggested “some further contamination during slaughtering”.
Prevalence of Campylobacter varied hugely among member states – ranging from two per cent in to 100 per cent for caecal contents, and from 4.9 per cent to 100 per cent for carcasses - both respectively in Estonia and Luxembourg. Of the major poultry producing nations, Spain topped the list at 88 per cent, followed by Ireland of 83 per cent. Poland was next on 79 per cent, France 76 percent and the UK at 75 per cent. Some 63 per cent of Italy’s broilers were infected while the bacteria was detected in just under half of German broiler carcasses.
The report also noted there was a general tendency for high counts of Campylobacter in countries with high prevalence of the bacteria. In the European Union, some 47 per cent of the carcasses contained less than 10 Campylobacter per g (cfu/g) and 12.2 per cent contained between 10-99 cfu/g. Higher counts were detected as follows: between 100-999 cfu/g on 19.3 per cent, between 1,000-10,000 cfu/g on 15.8 per cent and more than 10,000 cfu/g on 5.8 per cent of carcasses.
The prevalence of Salmonella-contaminated broiler carcasses also varied widely among countries from 0.0 per cent to 26.6 per cent. However, Hungary was characterised as having “an exceptionally high prevalence” of the bacteria at 85.6 per cent with the majority of isolates being Salmonella Infant, said the report.
The study provides comparable figures of Campylobacter and Salmonella prevalence among broilers in the EU. The baseline figures may be used in the future to follow trends and to evaluate the impact of possible initiatives to combat the bacteria in broilers.
It highlighted the need for in-depth research into the epidemiology and effective monitoring methods for controlling of Campylobacter in the broiler meat production. The information could be used in setting individual Campylobacter reduction targets for each member state. Countries may also need to address serovars other than S. Enteritidis and S. Typhimurium in their national Salmonella control and surveillance programmes of broiler flocks, said the authors.
A full copy of the report can be accessed via the following link