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Early Detection of Campylobacter in Broiler Chickens

Posted: 30 January 2020

Posted In: | Case Studies |

Roboscientific first started to work on detecting diseases in chickens following the outbreaks of campylobacter in supermarket chickens.  we decided there must be a way to reduce he isk of contaminated birds making their way into the food chain.

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 sensors developed by RoboScientific could rapidly and accurately detect this and other poultry diseases from air samples or faecal material samples. The aim of this  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.

Further projects have developed this theme with the atmosphere in chicken houses being sampled and analysed to establish whether we can detect changes in the condition of the birds caused by a range of diseases.  Our  real-time monitoring of flocks addresses these issues and is about to help move the industry on a route to minimising the impact of disease in flock of indoor-reared chickens.  We have now worked with several leading poultry producers to develop and successfully field trial this monitoring & diagnostics technology.  We are at the stage of trialling the prototype automatic monitoring system in chicken houses before launching it commercially.

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A further study is planned during which the atmosphere in each chicken house will be sampled at regular intervals to alert the farmers immediately at the onset of the disease. The current challenges include a lack of information quantifying the number of flocks colonised or to what level. The status of flocks and colonisation does not seriously affect productivity or welfare, so the incentive for change is limited. 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.