Campylobacter main cause of food illness

  • Deborah Condon

A new report has shown that Campylobacter is the number one bacterial cause of foodborne illness in Ireland, causing around four times more illness than Salmonella.

Campylobacter is primarily found in poultry and can cause acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever. The illness usually lasts between two and five days.

According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), in 2009, 1,808 cases of campylobacteriosis were reported and the provisional figure for 2010 is 1,666 cases.

However FSAI chief executive, Prof Alan Reilly, warned that there is probably 'substantial under-reporting' of the illness.

"These figures, in reality, could be considerably higher. What is particularly worrying is that we are seeing one to four-year-old Irish children having the highest incidence of the illness. There were 165 cases per 100,000 of the population within that age group reported in 2009," he noted.

The FSAI has published a scientific report highlighting the dangers of Campylobacter. It emphasises that similar to all bacteria found naturally on meat and poultry, the danger caused by this bacteria can be removed by cooking foods thoroughly and by preventing cross-contamination between raw meat and foods that are ready to eat.

The report points to European research which indicates that poor handling and preparation of chicken and the consumption of undercooked chicken meats accounts for almost one-third of all cases of campylobacteriosis.

The report makes a number of recommendations on this issue, including:
-The poultry industry should develop and implements its own voluntary code of practice based on recommended control measure
-Improve hygiene on farms
-Raw chicken should be packaged in leak-proof packaging
-Safe handling and cooking instructions should be clearly visible on labels or in butchers at the time of purchase
-Labels on whole chickens should advise consumers that washing the carcass should be avoided, as this can spread contamination around the kitchen.

"The current level of contamination of chicken with Campylobacter needs to be reduced to improve public health. The Irish poultry industry has been very effective in reducing Salmonella on poultry and now needs to make further improvements to address the Campylobacter problem," Prof Reilly insisted.

Meanwhile the FSAI is reminding caterers and consumers that poultry needs to be cooked thoroughly until the juices run clear and there is no pink meat remaining, while hand washing and disinfection of surfaces are essential after handling and preparing raw poultry.

It is also important that raw poultry does not come into contact with ready-to-eat foods during storage in the fridge or during preparation before cooking.

"When people are shopping they need to pack raw meat and poultry into a dedicated bag to keep it separate from other foods. They should only ever use that bag for raw meat and poultry and should wash and disinfect it regularly. This will prevent harmful bacteria from the outside of poultry and meat packaging from contaminating other foods,” Prof Reilly added.

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