AN Oxford University review of the sources, spread and control of campylobacter has concluded that levels of illness caused by the bug in people has not changed, despite the reduction on poultry.

Britain’s poultrymeat sector has undertaken significant investment through the entire supply chain to reduce the loading of campylobacter on chicken carcasses over the past five years.

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According to an Oxford Martin School restatement report, the quantity of retail chicken testing positive for campylobacter fell from 73% in 2014 to 40% in 2018.

But cases in humans have not reduced over the same period, as explained in the report, which was published in June – around the peak time for campylobacter infections in the UK.

Around 3,500 people are hospitalised annually in the UK with campylobacteriosis – food poisoning caused by campylobacter contamination.

Control measures

“In addition to wider control measures, beef, lamb, and pork need to be more widely understood to be carriers of the bacteria and potential causes of food poisoning,” the report recommends.

It adds that refocusing on campy control is vital as the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant campylobacter is increasing in the UK and has been designated a “high priority” pathogen by the WHO.

The report also found no clear evidence that long-term use of chlorine rinses, as is the case in the USA, lowered levels of campylobacter or food poisoning – but a broader series of control measures had strong evidence for overall effectiveness.

Food hygiene

Lead author of the study was Professor Matthew Goddard of the University of Lincoln. He said: “We can’t be sure why the UK has its peak of campylobacteriosis in May and June – it might be the warmer temperatures accelerating its growth or food-safety issues at barbecues.

“We do know the biggest risk is poor food hygiene, cross-contamination and undercooked meat – particularly, but not just, chicken.

“From reviewing evidence from around the world, we see that there is no single processing solution, type of farming, or public education intervention that can solve this.”

The full paper, A restatement of the natural science evidence base regarding the source, spread and control of Campylobacter species causing human disease, was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.