Control procedures for Campylobacter

Although Campylobacter has been demonstrated to be susceptible to a wide variety of antimicrobial treatments, food processing methods and environmental stresses (Solomon and Hoover, 1999; McClure, 2000), it still continues to cause an increasing level of human foodborne disease. It is obvious that there is no single approach to controlling this organism and a number of preventative measures are needed throughout the farm-to-table continuum in order to reduce the incidence of campylobacteriosis in humans.

Owing to the prevalence of Campylobacter in poultry, control measures to reduce infection and spread of the organism on broiler farms would reduce the risk of transmission to humans further down the food chain. Control measures that have been shown to be effective have included: strict hygienic routines when the farm workers enter the rearing room (washing hands, the use of separate boots for each broiler house and the use of footbath disinfection), disinfection of drinking water, and depopulation of broiler houses as quickly as possible and in one batch only (van de Giessen et al., 1996; Hald et al., 2000, 2001). In addition, chicks dosed with anaerobic preparations of caecal mucus from Campylobacter-free adult hens were shown to be partly protected against C. jejuni (Mead et al., 1996). Vaccination and drug therapy have also been proposed (White et al., 1997) although the use of antibiotics has been a factor in the rapid emergence of antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter strains all over the world (Allos, 2001). This trend has further emphasised the need for appropriate and safe use of antibiotics in animal production (Pedersen et al., 1999).

When birds are sent for slaughter, there is a high risk that Campylobacter present will be transmitted from carrier birds to the carcasses being processed. This underlines the need for HACCP principles to be applied to processing plants, to minimise product contamination (Mead, 2000). Subsequent critical control points and good manufacturing practices that have been identified and implemented have included: temperature controls (washer and product), chemical interventions, water replacements, counter-flow technology in the scalder and chiller, equipment maintenance, chlorinated-water sprays for equipment and working surfaces, increase in chlorine concentrations in process water and removal of unnecessary carcass contact surfaces (Mead et al., 1995; White et al., 1997).

Campylobacter is relatively heat sensitive and so commercial heat processes within a HACCP framework should guarantee control of the pathogen. However, food handling at retail outlets and by the consumer often provides the last chance for control of this organism in the farm-to-table continuum. Adequate cooking and prevention of cross-contamination are probably the most important control measures in this environment. Following a prescribed cleaning procedure using hypochorite in addition to cleaning with detergent and hot water has been shown to reduce the level of contamination of Campylobacter in the domestic kitchen (Cogan et al., 1999). It is the effective promotion of good hygienic practices in such food preparation areas that could bring about the greatest benefits in terms of improved food safety, but this still presents an enormous challenge.

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