Options in fight against Campylobacter
There is no single, silver bullet answer to protecting consumers and lowering the rate of human illness associated with Campylobacter, says the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA).
Campylobacter is a bacterium commonly found in animals and the environment in New Zealand. Consequently, there are lots of different potential contamination pathways including untreated water, contact with animals, including pets and birds, and the farm environment, as well as food.
"Freezing raw chicken is one of the risk management options being considered by NZFSA but may not in itself sufficiently reduce the levels of Campylobacter," says NZFSA's principal microbiologist Dr Roger Cook.
"Freezing presents other problems for restaurateurs and consumers who then have to ensure the chicken is thawed properly before it is cooked. The thawing process also increases the amount of juice that drips from the chickens thereby potentially leading to much more cross-contamination."
NZFSA says it, too, is concerned at the country's high rates of human Campylobacter infections and says that, while there is some debate about where New Zealand sits in world terms, our rates remain unacceptably high.
"We know that chicken is a regular item on most New Zealand dinner tables," says Dr Cook, "and we have been working with industry and research groups in New Zealand, as well as looking at what is being done internationally, as part of a wider programme, to introduce an effective response to the problem."
A report recently commissioned by NZFSA and completed by the Environmental Science and Research Institute, called Transmission routes for Campylobacteriosis in New Zealand, is helping NZFSA to develop a risk management strategy with the aim of reducing the incidence of Campylobacter contamination of food.
The strategy, which is being developed in conjunction with industry, and takes into account the needs of consumers, will identify the appropriate steps within the production to consumption chain to target interventions.
NZFSA also works with industry, public health units, consumers and others in the Foodsafe Partnership to provide an extensive consumer education programme to help consumers manage the risks in their own home.
NZFSA reminds consumers that there are things that they can do to help reduce the risk of infection. Two of the most important of these are to follow the 4Cs rule – clean, cook, cover, chill – and the 20+20 hand wash rule before and after handling poultry.
NZFSA recommends washing your hands, using plenty of soap for at least 20 seconds. Rinse them well and dry them for a further 20 seconds using a clean, dry hand towel or disposable paper towel (the 20+20 rule).
Transmission routes for Campylobacteriosis in New Zealand can be downloaded from NZFSA's website: www.nzfsa.govt.nz/science/research-projects/index.htm