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Studies to Identify Critical Points for Infection of Live Birds or Contamination of Poultry Carcasses with Campylobacter and Salmonella spp.

Health Protection Agency
University of Bristol
Start date
End date
This research project aims to undertake a detailed audit of commercial chicken production and processing to determine when broiler chickens become infected with Campylobacter spp.

1. The study would identify broiler flocks likely to be colonised/infected with Campylobacter and Salmonella spp. and those where colonisation with Campylobacter spp. is less frequent.

2. To use sensitive isolation and enumeration techniques for Campylobacter and Salmonella spp. which maximise the recovery of these zoonotic pathogens.

3. To audit broiler flock colonisation/infection from the status of their parent flock(s) to the day of slaughter by regularly collecting samples from broiler chickens and their feed, water and environment.

4. To explore potential but under-examined, sources of flock infection and horizontal spread of the target pathogens, such as the air in broiler houses by taking air samples.

5. To audit the effects of poultry processing on the numbers and distributions of Campylobacter and Salmonella spp. sub-types on poultry carcass by taking samples at many points on the poultry production line.

6. To examine the distribution of Campylobacter and Salmonella spp. in the atmosphere of poultry processing plants by collecting and analysing air samples.

7. To determine whether immersion scalding is the source of Campylobacter and Salmonella spp. in chicken muscle by taking samples from scald tank water and from carcasses before and after scalding.

8. To carry out detailed typing of the isolates of Campylobacter and Salmonella spp. so that important sources of bird infection/colonisation or carcass contamination can be properly identified.

9. To use the above approaches to identify points of significance within the poultry production chain, which either introduce infection, change its nature or reduce it.

More information
Campylobacter spp. are important human gastro-intestinal pathogens. Although there are a variety of sources of infection, it has been estimated that the most important is contaminated poultry, principally chicken.

Infection can result directly from the consumption of under-cooked chicken or indirectly as a consequence of cross-contamination during meal preparation.

Recent surveys indicate that 70-90% of fresh chicken carcasses in retail outlets are campylobacter positive. It would also appear that 60% of housed poultry is colonised with the bacterium at slaughter.

There are clear public health benefits to be gained from a reduction in the incidence of campylobacter in the live animal.

Successful control of the colonisation of food animals with bacteria like Campylobacter spp. requires information on how the animals, in this study chickens, become infected and how products derived from them become contaminated.

Thus the principle aim of this research project will be to undertake a detailed audit of commercial chicken production and processing to determine when broiler chickens first become infected with Campylobacter spp. and to identify the major sources of flock infection and/or principle risk factors for the introduction of the bacteria.

A secondary objective will be to examine poultry processing to identify those points in the slaughterhouse where levels of campylobacter are significantly altered.

These approaches should make it possible to determine the critical points for control on either the farm or in the processing plant and to devise control measures.

Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the Food Standards Agency Research webpage.

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
Project number
Bacterial Pathogens
Meat, Poultry, Game