In the US, Campylobacter is the leading bacterial cause of foodborne diarrheal diseases. Campylobacter can be ingested through undercooked or raw poultry, seafood, produce, meat and water. It is the third leading cause of foodborne illness hospitalizations and the fifth most common reason for foodborne-related deaths in the US1. The US CDC estimates about 1.5 million Campylobacter infections yearly. In this blog post, we will take a quick look at Campylobacter, known contamination routes and strategies for curbing exposure to Campylobacter through food.
2. Campylobacter Contamination Route
• Food Animals and Raw Chicken
Food animals may harbor Campylobacter in their intestines. Although infected with Campylobacter, animals such as turkeys, geese and chickens could be asymptomatic. However, this does not mitigate the risk of cross-contaminating edible parts of infected animals. During harvest, Campylobacter can be transferred from the intestines of carcasses to edible portions such as chicken wings and thighs. Although hygiene and sanitation interventions are typically employed to reduce the load of Campylobacter in processed food, eliminating it from raw chicken may be challenging. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System found that in 2015, 24% of raw chicken in US retail stores was contaminated with Campylobacter2. It is therefore critical to clean, separate and cook raw chicken to the right internal temperature-165°F (74°C) for chicken parts and 180°F (83°C) for stuffed and unstuffed chicken3.
Campylobacter may be shed in animal faeces. This may pose cross-contamination risks for water bodies and soil used for crop cultivation. Untreated irrigation water or soil could serve as vectors for the spread of Campylobacter to food crops. To mitigate the spread of Campylobacter to produce, irrigation water should be pre-treated before use. Additionally, freshly harvested produce should be thoroughly washed with appropriate chemistry before cooking or consumption. Pre-washed but unpackaged produce should be washed with drinkable water before consumption.
Milk could be contaminated if a cow’s udder is infected with Campylobacter. Campylobacter can also find its way to milk through manure, such as animal droppings used to grow animal food. Milk should be pasteurized before human consumption to mitigate exposure risks to Campylobacter.
Simple but efficient food safety practices such as washing, separating raw poultry from other foods and cooking to the right temperature are significant for reducing human exposure to Campylobacter.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foodborne Germs and Illnesses. CDC, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html. Accessed September 15, 2023.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Campylobacter (Campylobacteriosis). CDC, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/campylobacter/faq.html. Accessed September 15, 2023.
3 Chicken Farmers of Canada. Chicken Cooking Times. Chicken Farmers of Canada. https://www.chicken.ca/chicken-school/chicken-cooking-times/. Accessed September 15, 2023.