Campylobacter is a bacterium that can cause an illness called campylobacteriosis. With over 246,000 human cases annually, it is the most frequently reported foodborne illness in the EU. However, the actual number of cases is believed to be closer to 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 €2.4 billion a year.
Campylobacteriosis is a zoonotic disease – 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.
- Fact sheet: EFSA explains zoonotic diseases - Campylobacter
- Five keys to safer food – World Health Organization (WHO)
The trend of confirmed human cases of listeriosis was stable in 2015-2019, after a long period of increase. There were 2,621 cases reported in 2019, mainly affecting people over 64 years old. It was the most severe zoonotic disease, with high rates of hospitalisation (92%) and fatality (17.6%).
To protect consumers from this public health threat, the EU has adopted an integrated approach to food safety from farm to fork. The approach consists of both risk assessment and risk management measures involving all key actors: EU Member States, the European Commission, the European Parliament, EFSA and ECDC. The approach is supported by timely and effective risk communication.
EFSA plays an important role in protecting consumers from this public health threat by providing independent scientific support and advice on the food safety-related aspects of Campylobacter.
It collects and analyses data on the prevalence of Campylobacter, assesses the risks posed by the bacterium and advising on possible control and mitigation options.
EFSA is assisted by its network on zoonoses monitoring data, a pan-European network of national representatives and international organisations that assist EFSA by gathering and sharing information on zoonoses in their respective countries.
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 bacterium.
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 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
The monitoring and control of foodborne 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 foodborne zoonotic diseases.
2020 EFSA experts update and review on-farm control options for Campylobacter in broilers, identifying the most effective ones and assessing the advantages and disadvantages of each measure.
2015 In their scientific opinion on public health risks associated with raw milk in the EU, experts from EFSA conclude that raw milk can be a source of harmful bacteria – mainly Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC).
2011 EFSA issues advice on reducing Campylobacter in chicken meat. Recommendations included pre-slaughter measures that could reduce the risk to public health 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 publishes an evaluation of factors that may contribute to the spread of Campylobacter in live chickens and chicken carcasses in the EU. Experts recommend that control programmes be based on an integrated approach that addresses both the chicken farms and the slaughter process. Further studies at national level could also allow better identification of risk factors for Campylobacter infections in each country.
2010 EFSA issues advice on the extent to which broiler (chicken) meat contributes to human cases of campylobacteriosis. Experts conclude that the handling, preparation and consumption of broiler meat may directly account for 20 to 30% of human cases of campylobacteriosis in the EU.
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.