Campylobacter is a persistent and widespread pathogen. According to the CDC, it was responsible (along with Salmonella) for the highest number of bacterial foodborne illnesses last year, causing more than 8,000 infections on its own.
That makes the work of Dr. Natalia Jones, senior research associate at the University of East Anglia, and her team pressing. In research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, they laid out their findings, that in the North West and East Anglia regions of the U.K. the pathogen is present in 55.8 percent and 38.6 percent of soils, respectively.
In fact, the percentages were from socks—which Dr. Jones’ novel research method relied on to gather soil.
“We have developed a new method of sampling for Campylobacter,” she explains to Food Quality & Safety. “We have shown that using boot socks worn over regular walking shoes is an effective method of sampling for Campylobacter over distance in the environment. The key difference from traditional sampling, such as taking a soil core, is that it samples the interaction between the human and the soil. It is highly possible that others may use this new method in the future.”
While it’s long been an accepted fact that Campylobacter was present in soil, Dr. Jones says, “What was novel was that after a walk in the countryside around 50 percent of the boot socks were positive for Campylobacter.”
The 55.8 percent of socks that showed Campylobacter presence in North West, versus the 38.6 percent of socks in East Anglia, reflect the wider use of the land by livestock in the North West region. The winter seasons showed the highest incidences of Campylobacter, followed by spring, since precipitation provided conditions favorable to the pathogen. The species they found most was C. jejuni, associated with sheep in the North West and wild birds in East Anglia, along with C. coli, associated with livestock, in the North West.
About Jesse Staniforth
Jesse Staniforth is a Montreal-based freelance journalist, writer, and editor covering a variety of different beats. He reports regularly on Indigenous issues for The Nation magazine, serving the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, as well on Information Security issues for SC Magazine. His stories have appeared in a wide variety of other publications, from the Toronto Star and Metro News through AskMen.com and University Affairs. After editing several thousands of pages' worth of food preparation training materials for a hospitality industry group, he grew fascinated with the subject of food safety. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.