Campylobacter campaign launched

Lurking unseen in fridges throughout the country, campylobacter has become the number one source of food poisoning in the UK. Yet from a consumer perspective it is relatively unknown.

While campylobacter was responsible for 70,000 confirmed cases of food poisoning in the past year, most consumers, when asked to name a bug, are more likely to plump for salmonella or listeria.

This has already started to change following the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) new campaign to educate and inform, ranging from consumer campaigns to tackle the problem of washing poultry, through to its more controversial actions of naming and shaming retailers with high levels of campylobacter on poultry.

However, whatever the politics of the situation, there is no getting away from the fact that campylobacter is a serious problem, and one everyone needs to get to grips with. That is why MTJ, along with the FSA and the British Poultry Council (BPC) are launching this campaign to tackle the bug.

Over the coming months, we shall be highlighting the good work that is going on to tackle the issue, we’ll be pointing to the weak spots, sharing best practice and looking for ways the entire industry can work together to tackle the issue.

Ultimately, we’ll be encouraging the trade to hit the target of the most contaminated of birds at the end of slaughter being under 10% by the end of the year.

There is a lot of great work going on behind the scenes to try and tackle the problem, which has no obvious solution, and this campaign aims to shine a light on that activity to show the trade is acting on campylobacter, as well as bringing people together to share ideas.

But what is the scale of the problem? “While confirmed cases of campylobacter infection are 70,000, we believe the number is closer to 280,000,” said Javier Dominguez, veterinary director with the FSA. “It’s the top reported food-borne disease in the UK and all across Europe. European estimates are around 9 million cases at a cost of around €2.4bn to the economy.”

However, on an EU level, the UK is leading the way when it comes to looking for interventions and solutions to tackle the problem, says Dominguez, although as the UK is the largest poultry producer within the region, we have more to gain from cracking down on campylobacter.

The biggest problem is that there is no silver bullet to tackle the bug, says Dominguez: “The reason it’s so challenging is that it is an environmental pathogen, it’s in the soil, it’s in the environment, it’s everywhere.”

While there are other sources for campylobacter, poultry remains the main point where the pathogen infects humans.

The FSA is working together with the BPC and others in industry to look at interventions throughout the supply chain, from farm through to the point of retail, to try and reduce the prevalence of the bug.

The recent retail survey conducted by the FSA shows there is still a long way to go: its results revealed that around 70% of fresh poultry on the retail shelves was contaminated with campylobacter.

Work is already under way: next month will see the ACT board (Acting on Campylobacter Together) established, chaired by former NFU director general Richard MacDonald, and featuring top executives from across industry. The board will look at ways to drive through interventions to limit campylobacter. And in March, MTJ will be teaming up with the FSA to bring you an exclusive webinar through – watch this space for more details.

Ed Bedington, editor of MTJ said: “The entire trade needs to pull together to tackle this problem – there are interventions out there that can be applied to reduce the impact of campylobacter. We have to be realistic, it is unlikely we can entirely stamp it out any time soon, but if we can bring the levels down, that is a step in the right direction.

“Hopefully, over the coming months, this campaign will play some kind of role in helping the trade to get to grips with the issue, and hit those targets by the end of 2015.

“If you can contribute to sharing best practice and news on successes against this bug, we’d love to hear from you.”

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