Campylobacter: The most frequent pathogen of bacterial diarrhoeal infections
A new consumer leaflet published by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) provides information on protection against foodborne Campylobacter infections. Cases of infection involving these bacteria are notified especially frequently in Europe. In Germany more than 60,000 cases are registered every year. Children under the age of five and young adults are the groups with particularly frequent infection rates. The consequences are diarrhoeal infections and, in individual cases, severe nervous disorders or inflammation of the joints. "Because Campylobacter is mainly found in raw poultry meat, everyone who cooks must pay special attention to kitchen hygiene when preparing it," says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of BfR. In this way it is easy to avoid infections with Campylobacter, campylobacterioses.
Campylobacter is found in domestic animals, livestock and the environment around the world. It frequently reaches food during milking or slaughter. Campylobacter is to be found particularly often in raw poultry meat. The pathogen is found far less frequently in raw milk, beef and pork. Poor kitchen hygiene may allow the germ to spread to other foods.
To prevent this happening, care should be taken in the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is the spread of the germ from one, usually raw, food to another food, for instance when the raw escalope of chicken is placed right next to lettuce on the work surface. The germs can also spread indirectly via hands, work surfaces, knives or other kitchen utensils. Poultry packaging is another potential source of cross-contamination.
Campylobacter can survive in a food for a certain period of time but cannot multiply. Like most foodborne pathogens, Campylobacter can be killed through heating as well as by boiling, roasting or pasteurising. Furthermore, Campylobacter is sensitive to oxygen, drying, salt and acid. By contrast, the deep-freezing of food cannot completely kill the Campylobacter, merely reduce the number of germs.
Small amounts of Campylobacter can cause intestinal infections in humans who normally develop symptoms like stomach ache and diarrhoea. Rare complications like nervous disorders (Guillain-Barré Syndrome) and inflammations of the joints may also occur.
To avoid these infections BfR advises consumers to:
- Regularly wash hands with warm water and soap before and during the preparation of food
- Thoroughly wash surfaces, appliances and hands after each contact with poultry, its packaging or thaw water
- Prepare the dishes first which are not going to be heated further or have a low germ risk like lettuce and vegetables and then prepare meat dishes
- When grilling, use separate tongs for the raw and cooked meat
- Cook poultry meat until it has a whitish colour throughout
- Boil raw milk prior to consumption
The leaflet “Protection against foodborne infections with Campylobacter” (in German) is intended for consumers and multipliers. It is free of charge and can be ordered from BfR (firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax 030-18412-4970). It can also be downloaded from the Internet.