Imported chicken linked to Campylobacter cases in Estonia

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According to a recently published study, imported chicken meat products pose a higher risk of Campylobacter infection in Estonia than domestic poultry.

The researchers found that the prevalence and number of Campylobacter in fresh broiler chicken meat was significantly lower in samples from Estonia compared to those from Latvia and Lithuania.

In the study, 429 chicken meat samples of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian origin were collected from Estonian retailers and analyzed between September 2018 and October 2019.

Campylobacter was isolated from 141 broiler meat samples. A total of three, 49 and 89 samples of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian origin were positive.

Link to human disease
Of the positive samples, 62 contained Campylobacter below 100 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) and in 28 samples the count exceeded 1000 CFU/g. A higher prevalence of Campylobacter in fresh meat from broiler chickens of Lithuanian and Latvian origin in the Estonian retail trade was observed, according to the study published in the journal Poultry Science.

More than 1000 CFU/g were found in a meat sample of fresh Latvian and 27 Lithuanian broiler chicken. The highest number of 1500 CFU/g in the Latvian sample was detected in February 2019.

Among the positive samples from Lithuania, high counts ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 CFU/g occurred throughout the year from October 2018 to August 2019.

In Estonia, 348 confirmed cases of campylobacteriosis were recorded in 2019. This level is below the European Union average.

Campylobacter isolates linked to human infections in Estonia were also obtained.

Campylobacter jejuni genotypes found in broiler chicken meat and human samples indicate that imported fresh chicken meat is the likely cause of campylobacteriosis in Estonia. Only isolates from Lithuanian chicken meat products overlapped those from human patients in Estonia, researchers said.

Estonian approach
A comparison with previous studies revealed a decrease in the prevalence of Campylobacter in fresh chicken meat samples of Estonian origin from 15.8 in 2000 to 2002 to 1.8 in this study. Since 2012, the prevalence of Latvian and Lithuanian Campylobacter in chicken meat has increased from 25.8 to 36.8% and 10.6 to 66.9% respectively, but the number of samples taken varied.

The researchers said that a possible explanation for the Estonian results is that strict biosecurity and self-control measures are applied at the farm, slaughterhouse and meat industry levels, as well as control measures based on risk assessment are implemented at all stages of production.

The three positive samples among Estonian products were found in July. In Estonia, the only broiler slaughterhouse and all associated farms belong to a single international meat company, which is not the case in Latvia and Lithuania.

The scientists said further research was needed to investigate other possible sources of Campylobacter infections in Estonia.

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