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Campylobacter strategy appears to be paying off

12 June 2008

Campylobacter strategy appears to be paying off

A strategy put in place by New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) and Poultry Industry Association New Zealand (PIANZ) to combat New Zealand's unacceptably high rates of notified campylobacteriosis appears to be paying off, Food Safety Minister Lianne Dalziel said today.

During the first quarter of 2008 there were 1762 notified cases of this illness, which is caused by the pathogen Campylobacter. The 2008 first quarter total is the lowest in the last 12 years.

Campylobacteriosis is the single largest contributor to the economic costs of foodborne diseases in New Zealand. It accounts for more reported cases than any other reported gastro-intestinal illness and Lianne Dalziel has been pleased to see figures steadily going down since November last year compared to each of the previous five years.

"While everyone involved with this complex issue realises that there is no one silver bullet to eradicate the problem and that there are many possible disease transmission routes, I am encouraged by how work is progressing," Lianne Dalziel said.

"It is too early to fully attribute this downward trend to the Campylobacter in Poultry strategy put in place by NZFSA and the poultry industry, but it looks as if all our strenuous efforts to address this public health problem are beginning to pay off."

Food safety authorities worldwide are struggling with high incidences of the disease. Since campylobacterosis was made a New Zealand notifiable disease in 1980, the reported incidence rates continued to rise steadily within New Zealand, prompting NZFSA, in close association with the poultry industry, to implement the Campylobacter in Poultry - Risk Management Strategy in 2006. This strategy is intended to assist NZFSA in its aim to reduce the number of human cases of foodborne campylobacteriosis acquired in New Zealand by 50 per cent over five years.

The strategy includes measures to reduce hazard levels at various points from farm-to-fork - from the poultry farms through to consumers' homes - and the combination of measures is intended reduce the risk to consumers.

Research has concluded that contaminated food is the dominant known cause of campylobacteriosis in New Zealand. Poultry is well-recognised both here and overseas as a source of Campylobacter and a specific Campylobacter in Poultry - Risk Management Strategy, which runs from 2007-2010, is in progress. It includes a raft of activities to combat the problem, including a performance target to bring down the Campylobacter counts on broiler carcasses leaving primary processing, and educating the public about good hygiene practices when handling poultry.

NZFSA's scientists are not only working on strategies to reduce the levels of the pathogen in the food chain, but also to find ways to prevent it getting there in the first place. People should also follow proper food hygiene behaviours to reduce all foodborne illness. Two of the most important are to follow the 4Cs rule – clean, cook, cover, chill – and the 20+20 hand wash rule. 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.

Background Campylobacter is a bacterial organism that causes the gastro-intestinal disease campylobacteriosis when it lodges in the walls of the intestine. Symptoms are usually flu-like, followed by diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. On rare occasions campylobacteriosis can cause severe complications such as Guillan-Barre Syndrome.

Campylobacter is commonly found in animals and the environment, therefore foodborne infection can result from eating undercooked meats (undercooked poultry has caused outbreaks), raw milk and drinking untreated water. The two types that affect most people in New Zealand are Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli.

More information about Campylobacter Campylobacter FAQs: campylobacter/index.htm Preventing cross contamination when handling raw meat, especially poultry: cross-contamination/rawpoultycrosscontamination.htm

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