Danish researchers are part of a project that is going to develop and test ways of producing chicken meat with lower levels of Campylobacter.

Chicken is one of the main food sources of Campylobacter infections in Denmark and Europe. Illness affects about 4,500 Danes each year. However, many cases are never reported and researchers believe the actual number is about 10 times higher.

In the SafeChicken project, researchers from the DTU National Food Institute and DTU’s Department of Chemical Engineering will work with Danish chicken producer Danpo and the Icelandic company Thor Ice Chilling Solutions.

Free range flocks of broiler chickens are more often Campylobacter-positive than conventional flocks. This is because they roam outside, where the bacterium occurs naturally. Existing measures for conventional broilers such as increased biosecurity and fly nets are not practical for free range and organic broiler chickens.

Scaling up potential solutions
Project partners will test methods in different parts of the production chain of organic and conventional broilers by adding substances to the chickens’ feed and water which have the potential to prevent the growth of Campylobacter in poultry; reducing prevalence of the bacteria in the environment with a new decontamination technology; and decreasing bacteria on carcasses by using a cooling system.

Some methods have already been tested and have shown promising results on a small scale under controlled conditions. To ensure they are applicable in practice, researchers will investigate and document their effectiveness under normal production conditions. They will also assess the extent to which each measure can help lower the risk of humans becoming infected from Campylobacter.

By 2025, chicken producers will have to comply with stricter EU rules on preventing Campylobacter in meat.

Currently, action is required if the level of 1,000 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) for neck skin samples after chilling of carcasses in processing plants is exceeded for 15 of 50 samples from 10 consecutive sessions. The number of samples permitted to exceed the limit will be reduced to 10 in 2025.

Danish authorities have national action plans to reduce the risk of contracting Campylobacter infection. The target for 2018 to 2021 was a 50 percent reduction compared to 2013 but this goal has not yet been reached.

The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries has allocated Danish Krone 7.4 million ($1.1 million) for the three-year project, which is led by DTU National Food Institute.

Another project run by the institute, called OutCampy and looking at how Campylobacter can be reduced in organic and free range broilers, has entered its final year.

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