Campylobacter

Introduction

Campylobacter is a bacterium that can cause an illness called campylobacteriosis in humans. With over 246,000 human cases annually, this disease is the most frequently reported food-borne illness in the European Union (EU). However, the actual number of cases is believed to be around nine million each year. The cost of campylobacteriosis to public health systems and to lost productivity in the EU is estimated by EFSA to be around EUR 2.4 billion a year.

To protect consumers from this public health threat, the EU has adopted an integrated approach to food safety from the farm to the fork. The approach consists of both risk assessment and risk management measures involving all key actors: EU Member States, European Commission, European Parliament, EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The approach is supported by timely and effective risk communication activities.

EFSA plays an important role in protecting consumers from this public health threat by providing independent scientific support and advice on the human health and food safety-related aspects of Campylobacter.

Campylobacteriosis is a zoonosis – a disease or infection that can be transmitted directly or indirectly between animals and humans. Usual symptoms are fever, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Raw poultry meat is often contaminated with Campylobacter since the bacterium can live in the intestines of healthy birds. It is also found in pigs and cattle. Eating undercooked chicken, or ready-to-eat foods that have been in contact with raw chicken, is the most common source of infection. In its assessments, EFSA has found that chickens and chicken meat may directly account for 20-30% of human cases.

Safe handling of raw meat and other raw food ingredients, thorough cooking and good kitchen hygiene can prevent or reduce the risk posed by contaminated food.

Role

The European Food Safety Authority provides independent scientific advice and scientific assistance through the collection and analysis of data on the prevalence of Campylobacter as well as by assessing the risks posed by the bacterium and advising on possible control and mitigation options.

EFSA’s findings are used by risk managers in the EU and the Member States to help inform policy, and to support the setting of possible control options and reduction targets for Campylobacter in the food chain.

Annual monitoring of Campylobacter in animals and food

EU-wide data on the presence of Campylobacter in the food chain as well as the prevalence of animal and human infection are collected and analysed in annual EU Summary Reports prepared by EFSA and ECDC. The monitoring data are used with other information to evaluate the progress made in EU Member States in reducing the prevalence of the bacteria.

EU-wide surveys on the prevalence of Campylobacter

EFSA produces baseline survey reports on the prevalence of Campylobacter in food-producing animals such as chickens and on the risk factors that contribute to the prevalence of Campylobacter in animal populations. The findings are used by risk assessors such as EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards to provide risk estimates and also by risk managers to define possible control options and/or reduction targets.

Risk assessments and recommendations

EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards evaluates the food safety risks of Campylobacter and provides scientific advice on control options at the request of risk managers or on its own initiative. In its assessments, EFSA has among other things found that meeting set reduction targets for Campylobacter in chicken flocks in the EU would significantly reduce the risk of human contamination.

EFSA is assisted in its work by the Panel on Biological Hazards, which is composed of 21 independent experts on biological hazards in the food chain; and by the Task Force on Zoonoses Data Collection, a pan-European network of national representatives of EU Member States, other reporting countries, as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

EU framework

The monitoring and control of food-borne diseases as well as food hygiene requirements and food safety criteria are regulated by EU legislation. For details on the regulatory framework, see the topic on Food-borne zoonotic diseases.

Latest

EFSA experts are currently updating and reviewing on-farm control options for Campylobacter in broilers.

 

Milestones

EFSA is working together with key EU actors to reduce campylobacteriosis in humans.

2011 - EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards issues advice on reducing Campylobacter in chicken meat. Recommendations included pre-slaughter measures that could reduce public health risk by 50%, meat production measures that could reduce public health risk by 90% or more, and an evaluation of the effectiveness of achieving set reduction targets.

2010 - EFSA analyses and publishes the results of the survey (see below: 2008), Campylobacter was found in over 75% of chickens. Experts concluded that the handling, preparation and consumption of chicken meat may directly account for 20% to 30% of human cases of campylobacteriosis.

2008 - Using the technical specifications submitted by EFSA’s Task Force, a European Union-wide baseline survey on Campylobacter in chickens at slaughter is carried out.

2007 - EFSA’s Task Force on Zoonoses Data Collection proposed a coordinated monitoring programme for Campylobacter in chicken meat in the EU.

2005 ­- EFSA publishes an opinion on Campylobacter in animals and foodstuffs which identified poultry meat as a major source of campylobacteriosis.