Peter Bradnock, who retires as head of the BPC next month [May 20], told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the industry was pinning its hopes on a new technique of “rapid surface chilling” or “crust freezing” of chickens and turkeys, plus other changes to the way poultry is handled in abattoirs and process plants to meet the 2015 target.
“We don’t believe that you can get to the [2013 target] readily by biosecurity on farms; you’ll improve it, but we think that is rather optimistic,” said Bradnock. “So you are going to need some sort of prevention in the processing plants.”
Lactic acid not effective
Until very recently it had been hoped that the use of lactic acid antimicrobial washes – recently approved by the European Commission to reduce bacterial loading on beef carcasses – together with improved biosecurity measures on farms would provide the necessary answer to the increasing problem of Campylobacter infection of poultry. However, Bradnock said that the latest research had shown lactic acid was not as effective as initially hoped.
“Lactic acid looked like it was very useful,” said Bradnock, but the results appear to be temporary. “Lactic acid somehow damages the Campylobacter but doesn’t actually kill them … and they recover, it would seem. So the enthusiasm has diminished both from a scientific view and from the user point of view.”
However, he added: “A lot of work has been done on [crust freezing] with very good results. Better results than with lactic acid … it looks like the one we are now pinning all our hopes on now.”
This and other issues will be on the agenda of a meeting of researchers involved with Campylobacter reduction towards the end of next month (May). This will review the UK’s Campylobacter reduction strategy as well as progress of both academic and industry research.
When he retires, Bradnock will continue to chair the Joint Working Group on Campylobacter, which was established in August 2009 as a joint industry and government group, with the aim of identifying interventions that would reduce Campylobacter in chicken. The group comprises the BPC, National Farmers Union, British Retail Consortium, Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The May meeting will also report on the findings of a meeting of academic research groups held last month (March 12–14) to review the results of projects being carried out as a part of UK’s Campylobacter strategy, which is supported by research funding from the FSA, DEFRA and Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council. Around £4M is spent each year on this research.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, the number of confirmed cases of campylobacteriosis – the disease associated with Campylobacter infections – has increased over the past five years and remains the most reported zoonotic disease in humans.
It is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and was responsible for an estimated 321,000 cases in England and Wales in 2008, with over 15,000 hospitalisations and 76 deaths. It accounts for a third of the cost of foodborne illness in these two countries, estimated at £583M in 2008. The latest figures from the FSA for Campylobacter incidence (2009) in England and Wales is around 370,000.