Campylobacter. Foto: CDC/ Dr. Patricia Fields, Dr. Collette Fitzgerald

New methods to reduce campylobacter on chicken meat

Food, fish and agriculture Food quality Food production Food safety
Researchers and businesses will use a GUDP grant to develop new ways to prevent campylobacter bacteria from ending up on chicken meat and to ensure that fewer consumers get sick.

The greater focus on more sustainable diets may increase demand for chicken, which is the meat with the lowest carbon footprint. However, chicken is also the food source that most frequently gives Danes and Europeans campylobacter infections, which is a major challenge for the food industry.

Because chicken may become an even more popular food in future, it is important to gain more knowledge about and develop more solutions for reducing the presence of campylobacter bacteria in broiler chickens. By 2025, chicken producers will also have to comply with stricter EU rules on preventing campylobacter in chicken meat.

Moreover, free-range flocks of broiler chickens are far more often campylobacter-positive than conventional flocks. This is because they roam outside, where the bacterium occurs naturally. Existing measures used for conventional broilers such as increased biosecurity and fly nets are therefore not practical for free-range and organic broiler chickens.

Promising methods to be tested on a larger scale

In the SafeChicken project, researchers from DTU National Food Institute and DTU’s Department of Chemical Engineering will work with the Danish chicken producer Danpo and the Icelandic company Thor Ice Chilling Solutions to develop and test ways of producing chicken meat containing fewer campylobacter bacteria.

The project will test methods in different parts of the food chain in the production of both organic and conventional broiler chickens by: adding selected substances to the chickens’ feed and water which have the potential to prevent the growth of campylobacter bacteria in the chickens; reducing the prevalence of the bacteria in the environment with a new decontamination technology; and reducing bacteria on the carcasses by using a special cooling technology.

Some of the methods have already been tested and have shown promising results on a small scale under controlled conditions. To ensure that they are applicable in practice, also for free range and organic chicken production, the project partners will investigate and document the methods’ effectiveness under normal production conditions. They will also assess the extent to which each measure can help lower the risk of humans becoming infected and sick from campylobacter bacteria.

Combatting campylobacter from a ‘green’ perspective

The fewer bacteria chicken meat contains, the longer the meat can stay fresh. This will also result in fewer withdrawals of goods that have to be destroyed due to unacceptable levels of campylobacter. This will help to achieve the UN Sustainable Goal no. 12 concerning responsible consumption and production.

As part of the Green Development and Demonstration Programme (GUDP), the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries has allocated DKK 7.4 million for the three-year project, which is led by DTU National Food Institute. 

About campylobacter

Campylobacter infection is the most frequently occurring foodborne disease in the EU and Denmark. According to the official statistics, the bacterium makes approximately 4,500 Danes ill each year. However, many cases are never reported, and researchers believe the real number is about ten times higher.

The more campylobacter bacteria a food contains, the greater the risk that it will make people ill when they ingest it. Therefore, Danish authorities have initiated national action plans with the aim of reducing the risk of contracting campylobacter infection. The target for 2018-21 was a 50% reduction compared to 2013—and this goal has not yet been reached.