In this blog we take a current look at Campylobacter, what it is and a summary of the latest NFU and Food Standards Agency (FSA) funded testing project.   At Powell & Co. we’re committed to working together with industry stakeholders to develop an evidence-based approach to reducing the levels of campylobacter in UK poultry.  We work closely with our customers and the processors they supply to ensure a proactive approach to incorporating control measures into all our construction projects.

Campylobacter, Poultry Housing

“Campylobacter is a bacterium often found in the gut of poultry and wild birds and it's presence generally does not harm the birds. It's presence in birds becomes a problem when Campylobacter ends up on the meat and then a) if that meat is not cooked throughout or b) the bacterium is spread in the kitchen environment through unhygienic practices.  It is well accepted that reducing the incidence of food-poisoning caused by Campylobacter is something that requires the combined efforts of regulators, producers, retailers, scientists and consumers."

Arnoud H.M. van Vliet, PhDCampylobacter Group Leader

The NFU and FSA on-farm Campylobacter testing project, to further increase awareness of Campylobacter amongst independent broiler farmers, concluded in July this year.   

It allowed farmers to monitor the status of their flocks for free during a short-term period, which was achieved by obtaining a sample of litter via a boot swab and then posting this to the laboratory.  Farmers were then texted the status of their flock within 72 hours.  The project was a valuable opportunity to analyse the data and make possible comparisons with potential risk factors associated with the colonisation of Campylobacter.  To encourage farmers to participate, it was made known to them from the outset that final results would not by identifiable to specific farms.

In all, 3,480 usable samples were acquired from 220 UK independent broiler farms and these formed the basis of the final multivariate analyses.  This was a slightly reduced number from the final numbers at the specified end date of the project given that some farms did not provide the required information.

As per similar studies, when looking specifically at the birds, it was observed that increased bird age had a correlation with Campylobacter colonisation.  There was a potential new finding of female birds having a protective factor.  This was possibly due to the fact that male birds are relied upon to get heavier, resulting in more female birds being removed at an early stage and therefore less likely to harbour Campylobacter.

Other factors were also observed.  The analysis appeared to show that broiler houses constructed with wooden frames provided a protective factor.  Upon further investigations, it is possible that natural antimicrobial resins in wood play a role in this.  The study highlighted that there is merit in further investigation in the use of prebiotics as a potential factor for colonisation.  The final report will be available from ACT in the near future.

In summary, the ‘gold standard’ for protecting housed birds from Campylobacter is biosecurity. Measures most effective include hygiene barriers creating ‘clean’ areas; dedicated clothing and footwear; boot disinfection upon entry and exit from broiler houses; hand-washing; water sanitisation and exclusion of flying insects.

Finally, work is underway on chickens more resistant to Campylobacter. Genes associated with resistance have been identified, although it will take time for resistant birds to become available.