Campylobacter week: two great papers on the pathogen

A couple of cool papers on Campylobacter were published last week — one discussing outbreaks  of the pathogen in Australia (and the most common sources) and another suggesting that generic E. coli is a lousy indicator of campy in water.

In the first paper, Outbreaks of Campylobacteriosis in Australia, 2001 to 2006, researchers looked at 33 outbreaks of campylobacterosis between 2001 and 2006 resulting in 457 probable and 147 confirmed illnesses. These outbreaks only captured 0.1 per cent of laboratory confirmed outbreaks suggesting that sporadic cases are much more problematic than outbreaks. The group found that commercial settings were implicated in 55 per cent of the outbreaks, and the most common suspected food vehicle was poultry (41 per cent of outbreaks). Salads were also suspected in two of the outbreaks.

In the second paper, Thermotolerant Coliforms Are Not a Good Surrogate for Campylobacter spp. in Environmental Water, researchers in the former home of the Nordiques, Quebec, analyzed over 2400 samples of river water from 25 sites over a two year period. The samples were tested for the presence of indicators (thermotolerant coliforms and generic E. coli) and Campylobacter. The group found that there was a weak association between the distributions of Campylobacter spp. and thermotolerant coliforms and between the quantitative levels of the two classes of organisms. Their results suggest that sampling water for thermotolerant coliform does not provide a good indication whether or not Campylobacter is present.

This is important information for the produce industry which, as the first paper shows, plays a role in Campylobacter infections. By testing water for common indicators, producers and packers may be missing campylobacter risks entirely.

A good way to get campylobacter? Use raw chicken to reduce swelling.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.