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Campylobacter Found on Majority of Raw Chicken

by 5m Editor
29 April 2010, at 9:35a.m.

AUSTRALIA - A large percentage of the live chickens entering the processing plants are infected with Campylobacter (84 per cent) and to a much lesser extent, Salmonella (13 per cent with 7.5 per cent positive for pathogenic types), according to a recent survey of raw chicken.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) was the coordinating agency for a baseline survey to obtain information on the likelihood of live chickens being contaminated on-farm with Salmonella and Campylobacter and also the likelihood of the chicken being contaminated after it has been slaughtered. Salmonella and Campylobacter are the two main bacteria that can be present on raw chicken and cause illness if the chicken is not cooked or handled correctly.

Salmonella and Campylobacter are killed by cooking. To handle chicken safely:

  • cook it thoroughly, until there is no pink visible and juices run clear
  • after handling raw chicken, wash and dry hands thoroughly, and
  • ensure all utensils that have been in contact with the raw chicken are also washed and dried thoroughly before being reused.

As this survey was testing live chickens and raw chicken carcasses, FSANZ expected to find Salmonella and Campylobacter. As in most poultry producing countries, Campylobacter and, to a lesser extent Salmonella, were frequently found in samples tested. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recently reported findings from a baseline survey undertaken by European Union Member States (published in March 2010)

No poultry producing country has been able to eliminate Salmonella and Campylobacter from raw poultry. However, some countries have successfully reduced the amount of Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw chicken to some degree by improving practices and procedures on-farm and at the slaughtering facilities. These countries have found that this results in less illness in people.

As part of its through-chain approach to food regulation, FSANZ has developed a Primary Production and Processing Standard for Poultry Meat, which will be considered at a meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council1 in May 2010. When implemented, this standard will require poultry farmers and processors to ensure their practices and procedures are effective at lowering the likelihood of poultry being contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Background

During the development of the Standard for Poultry Meat, the need to obtain baseline data on the prevalence and levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter along the poultry meat supply chain was identified.

Baseline data had been collected at the retail level in 2005/06, but not at the primary production or primary processing stages.

This survey was agreed to as an ISC Coordinated Food Survey in 2006, with FSANZ nominated as the lead agency. The jurisdictions that participated were WA, SA, NSW, Queensland and Tasmania. The South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing were also part of the project team. SARDI compiled and analysed the results from the survey.

Results

This study measured both the prevalence and where appropriate, concentration, of Salmonella and Campylobacter at three points along the chicken meat supply chain, on-farm, just prior to processing and at the end of primary processing (the slaughtering process). The percentage results for Salmonella indicate the percentage of samples that were positive for all types of Salmonella as well as the percentage that were positive for pathogenic (disease-causing) types.

  • On-farm
    To test chickens on-farm, chicken faeces were collected from 39 farms in WA. The results showed that 64 per cent of the flocks/sheds were positive for Campylobacter and 47 per cent were positive for Salmonella (approximately 47 pre cent with pathogenic types).
  • Prior to processing
    To test the degree to which chickens are contaminated that are being slaughtered, the caecal contents of chickens (part of the digestive system containing waste) were collected for testing in WA and SA. A total of 636 samples were tested. The results showed that 84 per cent of the samples were positive for Campylobacter and 13 per cent for Salmonella (7.5 per cent positive for pathogenic types).
  • Post primary processing
    To test the likelihood of chickens being contaminated after they have been slaughtered, 1,112 carcasses were sampled in WA, SA, NSW and Queensland. The results showed that 84 per cent were positive for Campylobacter and 37 per cent for Salmonella (22 per cent positive for pathogenic types).
    The numbers of bacteria present on the carcass was also tested. Campylobacter was present in reasonably high numbers (around 500 per 100 square cm) and Salmonella in low numbers (around 1 per 100 square cm).

Discussion

Overall, the results indicate that a large percentage of the live chickens entering the processing plants are infected with Campylobacter (84 per cent) and to a much lesser extent, Salmonella (13 per cent with 7.5 per cent positive for pathogenic types). Chicken carcass samples taken at the end of the slaughtering process gave a similar prevalence for Campylobacter (84 per cent). However, the samples tested were higher for the prevalence of Salmonella (37 per cent with 22 per cent positive for pathogenic types). The levels of Campylobacter on the carcass were reasonably high and for Salmonella, low.

These results are similar to the results from a retail baseline microbiological survey carried out in 2005/2006 in South Australia and New South Wales, which looked at contamination levels in raw poultry, when it is purchased from a supermarket, butcher or speciality chicken shop. The study found that raw poultry is likely to be contaminated with Campylobacter (90 per cent) and to a lesser extent Salmonella (43 per cent with 13 per cent positive for pathogenic types).

Conclusion

This survey has provided baseline data on the prevalence and levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter on raw chicken meat at both the primary production, and primary processing stages of the chicken meat supply chain, prior to the introduction of a new standard for poultry meat. These results are not dissimilar to those found in many other poultry producing countries.

FSANZ will undertake another poultry survey, after the new requirements, if approved, for poultry farmers and poultry processors are implemented, to determine whether the requirements have been successful in lowering the amount of Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw chicken. It is anticipated that the new Standard for poultry will be implemented over the next two years.