Campylobacter is a spiral-shaped bacteria that can sicken humans and other animals. It is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness, moreso than Salmonella. With that said, it is not usually associated with outbreaks. The FDA estimates that the bacteria affects roughly 1.3 million persons every year. Read more to find out why we should give them more attention!
What it is & where it comes from
Campylobacter are very sensitive organisms and cannot withstand drying out. They are also killed in the presence of oxygen, therefore they grow in places with very little oxygen.
Campylobacter grows best in 37°C-42°C, which is roughly the body temperature of birds. Birds can carry Campylobacter without any symptoms and thus can spread the bacteria.
Chickens are frequently infected and show no signs of bacterial infection. It can be spread within a flock by using the same water source and by being in contact with infected feces.
Cows that have infections in their udders can produce contaminated milk. The milk can also become contaminated upon contact with infected substances, such as water sources of feces. In both cases, pasteurization would kill the bacteria.
In 1996, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) began a very detailed surveillance sentinel system called FoodNet. There are ten active sites that monitor incidences of Campylobacter as well as conducting studies to identify the highest risk factors. This program covers 15% of the US population.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began establishing standards on chicken producers to try and limit the amount of infection. This was in response to finding Campylobacter bacteria in roughly 47% of all raw chicken samples in grocery stores.
The Model Food Code for restaurants and other food service establishments, produced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has also helped reduce the number of infections.
The three organizations have collaborated to form the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). This, with the assistance of other health departments, tracks and records changes in Campylobacter's antibiotic resistance in humans, meat products, and animals.
Why you should care
Campylobacter can cause diarrhea, along with cramping, abdominal pain, soreness, and fever within just a few days of exposure. The symptoms usually last up to a week. If one's immune system is deficient, then it can be potentially life threatening. With that said, some cases don't even experience symptoms if infected.
It only takes a few individual bacterium to make a person sick. One drop of contaminated juice from raw meat is enough. Contact of other foods with contaminated meat can result in spreading the bacteria. For example, cutting raw poultry on a cutting board and then using that same board for fruits and vegetables without washing the board first.
Natural run off processes with ground water and surface water can lead to Campylobacter ending up in streams. Infected feces are washed away to the closest water source, which could be a water supply for humans. Developing countries are at higher risk for infection due to improper water treatment.
How to protect yourself
- Freeze meat after purchasing
- If sick, wash hands thoroughly to reduce the risk of spreading the infection
- Cook poultry products thoroughly and don't consume the meat raw
- Cases have also resulted from unpasteurized dairy products, contaminated water, and contaminated produce
- Wash hands before and after handling raw poultry
- Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by using separate dishes, utensils and cutting boards for raw meat and other raw foods
At Sample6, our current focus is Listeria and Salmonella but Campylobacter is also an important foodborne pathogen. When designing your food safety plans, it is important to consider all the biological contaminants that can put your product at risk. For producers actively dealing with chicken and chicken products, Campylobacter is top of mind. Whatever the primary risks are for your plant, make sure that you have the best tools to support your plans and your team.
Together, we can make food safer.