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NZFSA produces update on work re Campylobacter

As concern around New Zealand's high rates of campylobacteriosis continues, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) has put together a report which sets out, in easy-to-understand terms, the scientific research that NZFSA has collated on the problem and the practical measures currently in place to contain Campylobacter in food, as well as an update on what is happening in this regard overseas.

Campylobacter is naturally present throughout the environment – in water, on animals (including birds and pets) as well as being found on meat and food products.

However, our extensive research programme shows that, as far as chicken is concerned, there is no silver-bullet solution to New Zealand's high rates of human campylobacteriosis. While different interventions may offer reductions in hazard levels at certain points in the farm-to-fork continuum, it is a combination of measures that is more likely to achieve the greatest reduction in risk to consumers.

NZFSA's Director (Science) Steve Hathaway, who has just returned from attending a round of international conferences on Campylobacter, says: "NZFSA is considering some short-term measures that will decrease contamination rates in poultry. However, our aim has always been to focus on not just removing the high levels of the pathogen from the food chain, but to find ways to prevent it getting there in the first place."

NZFSA is not alone in its efforts to lower the country's high rate of illness associated with the disease. "We are concerned that New Zealand's rates are so high, but so too are those in the rest of the developed world and everyone is trying to find effective solutions," says Dr Hathaway.

NZFSA's Campylobacter Working Group (CWG) is currently developing a risk management strategy that takes a whole-of-food-chain approach when considering how best to deal with the illness, as well as looking at what effective measures could be put in place in the short-term.

This means that the steps in the food chain across all the sectors must be closely examined and considered before NZFSA's risk managers can implement a science-based decision on where best to intervene in the chain to gain the greatest level of consumer protection against campylobacteriosis. Precipitous ad hoc decisions could add costs with no benefits to consumers, and this is unacceptable.

The report, which is available on NZFSA's website (www.nzfsa.govt.nz) explains why Campylobacter in poultry is a complex issue and what is being done at each stage of the production process – by industry and food safety experts – to manage the problem. It also lists food safety information for consumers and explains NZFSA's strategy for effective communication with the general public on how to lessen the risk of contracting the disease.

Dr Hathaway adds: "Work on how best to deal with the situation is at the cutting edge. We hope that our report will go some way to explaining to New Zealand consumers why there is no quick fix to the problem as well as set out the broad range of work already done on the topic, and the steps taken to help deal with the high rates currently found in New Zealand poultry."

ENDS

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