Poultry liquid a major cause of campylobacter outbreaks in processing plants

Campylobacter is a common bacteria found in raw or undercooked poultry meat.

One of the biggest concerns for food processing plants is battling bacteria on equipment and other surfaces. According to a recent study by the Institute of Food Research, liquids from chicken carcasses in poultry products can lead to a persistent increase in campylobacter.

Campylobacter is a common bacteria found in raw or undercooked poultry meat or cross-contamination items, the U.S. Center for Disease Control reported. Annually, the bacterium affects more than 1.5 million people, and food processing plants work diligently to protect consumers from the illness.

Helen Brown, lead on the IFR study, said these infectious liquids are often collected through defrosting stages for chicken carcasses. The bacteria can attach to glass, polystyrene and stainless steel to form biofilms and threaten work environments.

“We have discovered that this increase in biofilm formation was due to chicken juice coating the surfaces we used with a protein-rich film,” said Brown, according to the report. “This film then makes it much easier for the campylobacter bacteria to attach to the surface, and it provides them with an additional rich food source.”

Easy-to-clean equipment is essential

Campylobacter are not necessarily long-lasting or tough bacteria, but they are often protected by a thin coating that keeps them alive. According to the IFR report, the bacteria stay alive since they are more resistant to disinfection treatments and antimicrobials.

Food processing plants need proper equipment so bacteria can be easily killed off at the right temperature.

Shell and tube heat exchangers provide food processing facilities with equipment that can heat products enough to eliminate the appropriate bacteria, and the stainless steel forged equipment makes the cleaning process easier.

The ability to clean massive equipment in food processing facilities remains one of the most important ways to eliminate cases of campylobacter.

“This study highlights the importance of thorough cleaning of food preparation surfaces to limit the potential of bacteria to form biofilms,” Brown said in the IFR report.

With more attention on preventing food-based bacterium outbreaks in processing facilities, the IFR hopes the additional insight will prevent more cases since many locations are prone to these illnesses. Supermarket shelves, deli or meat areas, food processing facilities, and poultry delivery areas can spread the bacteria or cross-contaminate other products if the meat is not handled correctly.

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This post was last updated 1/22/24.