New Zealand has set a goal to reduce foodborne Campylobacter infections by 20 percent by 2025.

The goal to cut foodborne campylobacteriosis was informed by a study commissioned by New Zealand Food Safety that found more than 80 percent of cases are likely due to consumption of poultry, and this proportion is even greater in urban populations.

The Campylobacter Action Plan for 2020 to 2021 focuses on improving biosecurity controls at farm level; boosting hygiene during primary processing; re-evaluating the regulatory target for Campylobacter that determines the allowable limit of contamination on chilled chicken carcasses; and consumer education.

Past progress
Bryan Wilson, deputy director-general for New Zealand Food Safety, said Campylobacter is the most common cause of reportable foodborne illness in the country.

“Contributing factors are Kiwis’ ever-increasing level of consumption of fresh chicken meat and the way we handle, prepare and cook poultry meat in New Zealand. Working with the poultry industry, New Zealand Food Safety’s risk management strategy has achieved more than a 50 percent reduction in foodborne cases since 2006,” he said.

New Zealand Food Safety is part of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). MPI’s 2017 to 2020 strategy aimed to reduce human foodborne campylobacteriosis in New Zealand from 88.4 cases per 100,000 people in 2014 to 79.6 cases per 100,000 by the end of 2020.

During 2018, 6,957 cases of campylobacteriosis were reported and 3,826 of these were estimated to be foodborne.

In 2006, New Zealand had one of the highest reported rates of campylobacteriosis from all sources worldwide with 379 cases per 100,000 people. Figures from 2019 show rates of 126.1 cases per 100,000 people.

Burden of disease from poultry meat
The year-long Source Assigned Campylobacteriosis in New Zealand Study (SACNZS) estimated relative contributions of different reservoirs and exposure pathways to the burden of human illness.

The study found 84 percent of cases could be attributed to a poultry source, 14 percent to a cattle source and 2 percent were unassigned. Raw milk consumption was only reported in 4.1 percent of cases.

About 90 percent of urban campylobacteriosis cases were assigned to poultry sources, while less than 75 percent of rural cases were linked to this source.

Specific risk factors associated with eating poultry resulted in statistically significantly elevated odds ratios such as consumption of undercooked chicken and eating it outside the home. More than 80 percent of people in the study as cases or controls had poultry within the previous seven days.

Wilson said the 12-month study included interviews with 666 people who’d been infected with the bug.

“As well as identifying the sources of Campylobacter illnesses in humans, the study identified several factors that may increase the likelihood of an individual contracting the disease. We’ll continue our work with industry to drive down the level of Campylobacter in poultry by understanding where the bacteria enter the food chain and where cross-contamination is likely happening.”

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