Move Over, Salmonella: Campylobacter’s new prevalence

You’re not likely to see a picture of Campylobacter in a post office lobby, but as of July 2011, the FSIS has introduced a new performance standard to reduce the prevalence of Campylobacter, similar to the one used for Salmonella for years.

Like the FBI, the FSIS has a “most wanted” list and wants to use it to protect families and communities. However, the FSIS will accomplish this goal by targeting Campylobacter in young chickens and turkeys at processing plants.

President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group developed three core principles to help guide food safety in the United States: prioritizing prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement, and improving response and recovery. The group’s overall mission is to ensure a safe food supply for the public. The new standards are a way to encourage businesses that slaughter young chickens and turkeys to focus on reducing the number of foodborne pathogens to make the food supply safer.

When Salmonella and Campylobacter show up in the food supply, the whole industry suffers. The illnesses they cause add to the cost of production, invite more regulatory scrutiny, and, more often than not, damage brand reputation. With the growth of social media, bad news in the food industry travels fast.

A 2011 report from the CDC estimates that approximately 845,000 illnesses are caused by Campylobacter each year.1 The FSIS projects that it will be able to prevent 5,000 illnesses each year through enforcement of the new Campylobacter standards.2 What makes this even more important is the fact that the most vulnerable consumers are those with weakened immune systems, including children and the elderly.

Researchers at the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute recently determined that the five leading bugs, with Campylobacter at the top of the list, result in economic losses of $12.7 billion annually.3 Such reports spurred the FSIS to develop its stricter performance standards for young chickens and turkeys being prepared for market.

According to the FDA: “Surveys have shown that C. jejuni is the leading cause of bacterial diarrheal illness in the United States. It causes more disease than Shigella spp. and Salmonella spp. combined,” and poultry has been identified as the main source of infection.4 Recent improvements in animal husbandry and carcass processing methods have made progress, but it is doubtful Campylobacter will be eliminated any time soon. Further reduction does seem to be an attainable goal, however.

Just as FSIS performance standards are changing, so too are testing methods. Enumeration testing is increasingly favored over presence/absence testing. Brilliance CampyCount Agar from Thermo Fisher Scientific makes that an easy transition.

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