RoboScientific technology meets the challenge of reducing the rates of Campylobacter infection in British poultry flocks
Few people will be unaware of the serious consumer reaction to the widely published stories about the prevalence of Campylobacter infections in a large proportion of the chickens on sale in the UK's supermarkets. Campylobacter is now the most common cause of human bacterial food poisoning in the UK with the main source being from raw poultry; 50-80% of cases of campylobacteriosis across the world can be attributed to raw poultry meat. An FSA survey of chicken on sale in the UK (2014) showed that 59% of chicken on sale at supermarkets was contaminated with Campylobacter and in an earlier EFSA survey of Campylobacter across the EU (2008) the UK had 6th highest prevalence of contaminated meat (86.3%).
The number of human cases of campylobacteriosis in the UK has risen since 2005 and is now higher than in 2000. It has been estimated that, out of a total of around one million cases of foodborne disease each year, Campylobacter is responsible for around 460,000 cases, 22,000 hospitalisations and 110 deaths. Currently it is estimated that the cost of human campylobacteriosis is around GBP 900m per year, out of a total of around GBP 1.5 billion for all foodborne infections. RoboScientific has been working collaboratively with UK industry through UK poultry farmers and processors and UK retailers to find way of detecting the onset of the disease at the earliest possible stage so allowing isolation and other biosecurity to be effective.
A feasibility study, grant aided by Innovate UK proved that electronic noses developed by RoboScientific could rapidly and accurately detect this and other poultry diseases from air samples or faecial material samples. The aim of this ongoing work is to achieve a reduction in human disease; an outcome that would put the UK poultry industry ahead of the game in comparison with European competitors. The planned reduction in contamination of the most heavily contaminated birds below 1000 cfu/g will deliver a meaningful reduction in human disease. In addition, any improvements in on-farm hygiene and biosecurity will also benefit biosecurity requirements for the effective control of other poultry diseases with public health significance, such as Salmonella and Avian Influenza.
A further study is planned during which a watchkeeper style device will sample the atmosphere in each chicken house at regular intervals and alert the farmers immediately of the onset of the disease. The challenges are that at present we do not know how many flocks are colonised or to what level and currently many farmers are unaware of the status of their flocks and colonisation does not seriously affect productivity or welfare, so reducing the incentive for change. Our proposed real time monitoring of flocks will address these issues and set the industry on a route to low-levels of this endemic disease. RoboScientific continues to work with several leading poultry producers to develop and field trial the monitoring & diagnostics technology.