A European project has developed a way to help with the biocontrol of Campylobacter and reduce its prevalence in the poultry sector.

Work focuses on the development of a bacteriophage-based solution to be used as a natural antimicrobial in the farm (pre-harvest), at slaughter, and in processing facilities (post-harvest). Standard control measures at the farm level rely upon the use of antibiotics.

The project, called Campylobacter-Specific Nullification via Innovative Phage-mediated Enteropathogen Reduction (C-SNIPER), is led by AZTI, a technology center in Spain. It received funding from EIT Food, part of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.

Poultry is the most widely consumed meat in the EU with Poland, Italy, Spain, and Germany as major producers. However, the consumption of poultry products is also considered the main route for campylobacteriosis, the most frequently reported foodborne illness in Europe.

No EU regulation yet
After one year of the project, a prototype of a phage solution against Campylobacter has been obtained, optimized, and set for production at a mini-pilot scale.

A survey among poultry producers and consumers found high acceptance of 90 percent and 85 percent respectively towards the use of bacteriophages for biosecurity of poultry production.

Other mitigation strategies such as biosecurity measures, reduction of slaughter age, vaccination, use of pre-/probiotics, or other antimicrobials as feed additives have been proposed but do not completely solve the problem of Campylobacter control.

As yet there is no regulation in Europe on bacteriophage application in food production so they cannot be used. Some EU countries allow them for specific applications under national standards. Phages could also be applied to foods for export to countries where use is authorized. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved phage products for Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli but no Campylobacter specific ones are commercially available yet.

Prior to bacteriophage authorization, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued several opinions favorable to the use of phages for food applications. However, the agency also said that more data is needed to conclude on the efficacy of bacteriophages in reducing pathogenic bacteria contamination levels.

Commercial product in two years
The C-SNIPER project will validate basic standards for the practical and commercial application of Campylobacter-specific bacteriophages and provide new evidence to support future EU regulation on phage application.

Other partners are the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research in Poland, the University of Turin, and ORA Societá Agricola from Italy and Phage Technology Center, Germany.

The second stage of the project, which continues into 2021, involves scaling up production, development of business plans, and in vivo validation trials to confirm the phage-based cocktail designed is significantly effective on poultry meat. The ultimate goal is to commercialize the product in poultry production and processing settings worldwide within the next two years.

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