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Int J Food Microbiol. 2007 Jan 1;113(1):54-61. Epub 2006 Sep 27.

Campylobacter spp. contamination of chicken carcasses during processing in relation to flock colonisation.

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School of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol, BS40 5DU, UK.


The presence and numbers of campylobacters on chicken carcasses from 26 slaughter groups, originating from 22 single-house flocks and processed in four UK plants, were studied in relation to the level of flock colonisation determined by examining the caecal contents of at least ten birds per group. The prevalence of campylobacters on carcasses from five campylobacter-negative flocks processed just after other negative flocks was low (</=30%). Campylobacters were isolated from 90 to 100% of carcasses from three flocks which were partly colonised, with 5, 5 and 30% of caecal contents positive, and which were processed after fully colonised flocks. All carcasses from the remaining fully colonised flocks were contaminated with campylobacters, and they had significantly (P<0.001) higher numbers per carcass (average of 5.3 log(10) cfu; range: 1.3 to >8.0 log(10) cfu) than carcasses originating from low prevalence flocks (average of 2.3 log(10) cfu; range: <1.1 to 4.1 log(10) cfu). There was a reduction in the numbers of campylobacters on carcasses between plucking and chilling in eight of ten fully colonised flocks. In another eight flocks, a significant (P<0.001) decrease (0.8 log(10) cfu) in the number of campylobacters on carcasses from just before to after chilling was detected. Campylobacter spp. could be isolated from aerosols, particles and droplets in considerable numbers in the hanging-on, defeathering and evisceration areas but not in the chillers. This was the case even when campylobacters were not isolated from the target flock. Campylobacters on carcasses from two partly colonised flocks were either the same subtype, as determined by speciation, Multi-Locus Sequence Typing (MLST) and flaA Restricted Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) typing, as those in the fully colonised flocks processed previously, although not necessarily the most prevalent ones; or were the same subtypes as those found in the caeca of the flock itself. The prevalences of the different campylobacter subtypes found on carcasses from two fully colonised flocks did not closely reflect those found in the caeca. MLST combined with flaA RFLP provided a good method for ascertaining the relatedness of strains isolated from carcasses and caecal contents. This study showed that carcass contamination is related to the within-flock prevalence of campylobacter colonisation, but that contamination from previously processed flocks was also significant, especially on carcasses from low prevalence flocks. Forced dry air cooling of carcasses reduced contamination levels.

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