Scotland seeks to address Campylobacter in poultry meat through super freezing

Those who work with Campylobacter say that it’s delicate and doesn’t respond well to stress, like freezing. Those who have had campylobacterosis say that it makes your intestines delicate and your gastrointestinal tract doesn’t respond well to stress, like eating. I’m one of them. In 2009 a campy infection gave me the worst November I can remember which led to me retiring a salad spinner after collecting a stool sample (it’s all detailed here).

Folks in the UK are dealing with their own Campylobacter crisis and are looking to super freezing (which sounds a bit like double secret probation) to address the situation according to The Scotsman,

Food safety experts plan to “superfreeze” chickens to halt the rise of campylobacter food poisoning. The Food Standards Agency is currently looking into a procedure which involves exposing the surface of slaughtered chickens to extreme cold, known as rapid surface chilling.

The FSA aims to reduce the proportion of birds in the highest category of contamination at UK poultry houses from 27 per cent to 10 per cent by 2015.

Dr Jacqui McElhiney, policy adviser on food-borne disease at the FSA in Scotland, said: “This process acts to temporarily cool only the very outer surface of the chicken carcass without freezing the meat itself. It involves exposing the surface of poultry carcasses to very low temperatures for a very short time, which reduces the numbers of campylobacter bacteria on the surface, as they are sensitive to an extreme cold shock treatment of this type.”

Although it performed well during trials, the “superfreezing” procedure has yet to be approved by the European Union and its legality is still to be determined, said McElhiney.
Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said: “I think it’s about the only thing on the table to get rid of campylobacter contamination. The bacteria don’t like being messed around with the cold. Anything that shows any promise of eradicating campylobacter is a good thing to get the number of infections down.”

Since freezing poultry seems to matter (resulting in significant reductions) I guess super freezing will really matter – and preserve quality. Reducing the Campylobacter loads entering a kitchen, whether it’s just 1-log or up to 3-logs, is a good thing and puts less of an emphasis on relying on consumers to be a critical control point in the home.

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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.