The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) has published a report looking at the Campylobacter situation in the country.
In 2020, there were 5,162 cases of Campylobacter reported, which is down from almost 8,000 in 2018 and more than 6,000 in 2019. COVID-19 restrictions and less travel may have played a role in this decline, according to the report. About 9 percent of the Campylobacter infections reported annually in Austria are acquired abroad. For comparison, there were 906 cases of salmonellosis this past year.
Since 2011, Campylobacter or Salmonella have been the most common outbreak agents every year. From 2004, the proportion of foodborne outbreaks in Austria caused by Campylobacter has increased, according to the report.
Most of the illnesses are linked to poultry meat but some are suspected to have been caused by raw, unpasteurized milk. However, those are usually small household outbreaks making it hard to find sufficient evidence to confirm the source of infection.
Campylobacter detection in fresh chicken meat in Austria during routine controls has been between 60 percent to 70 percent since 2014. The proportion of higher bacterial counts is decreasing but this could also be related to market supply trends for poultry without skin.
In 2020, 93 chicken meat and 43 turkey meat samples were tested for Campylobacter. It was detected in 50 of the chicken samples and 18 turkey samples, with two above 1,000 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g).
The current process hygiene criterion for Campylobacter means 15 out of 50 samples may exceed the limit of 1,000 CFU/g. Beginning in January 2025, it will be 10 of 50 samples above this value.
In 2020, there were 795 samples taken in Austrian broiler slaughterhouses as part of self-monitoring. Campylobacter was detected in 248 of them. Of these, only 38 exceeded the legal limit.
Although there have been Campylobacter outbreaks linked to raw milk, the risk is not apparent during routine monitoring. From more than 160 samples during 2016 to 2020, none have been positive. However, officials said Campylobacter does not survive for long in raw milk and is hard to culture.
The level of awareness of Campylobacter in Austria was found to be very low based on a study published in 2011 with 78 percent of 353 people saying they had not heard of it. Of the 75 people who said they knew of Campylobacter, three quarters could not link the germ to any food and none associated it with poultry meat.
A project called CampControl from 2018 to 2021 on measures to reduce Campylobacter at poultry farms found hygiene rules, drinking water quality and cleaning of housing facilities were efficient.
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