Campylobacter infection: symptoms and advice

Campylobacter is the most commonly reported cause of foodborne illness in New Zealand. It's most often found on raw chicken, raw red meat, and in raw milk. Find out about symptoms and how to lower your risk of infection.

Symptoms of campylobacteriosis

Campylobacteriosis is the disease caused by Campylobacter.

If you get infected, you might get sick within 2 to 5 days, but sometimes it can take up to 10 days.

Symptoms include:

  • diarrhoea (can be bloody)
  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • abdominal pain
  • vomiting.

Most people feel ill for 3 to 7 days, but sometimes it can be up to 2 weeks.

Rarely, infection can be followed by chronic (long-term) illnesses like reactive arthritis and Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). With GBS, the body's immune system attacks the nerves.

How you can get sick

The most common and well-known source of Campylobacter from food is poultry meat (like chicken) and offal. People mainly get sick from this when it isn’t cooked well enough. Other food and drink that you can get infected by include:

  • raw (unpasteurised) milk
  • raw or under-cooked red meat
  • raw fruit and vegetables
  • drinking contaminated water.

You may also get infected through:

  • contact with faeces and not washing your hands after the toilet
  • contact with farm animals, pets, birds, or other animals
  • infected people
  • infected soil
  • swimming, and doing activities in contaminated water, or
  • if the bacteria spreads to objects and surfaces (cross-contamination).

Avoid cross-contamination of food

If you're not careful, you can spread harmful germs to different food and surfaces. For example, if you cut raw chicken then use the same knife and chopping board for other food, the germs can spread. This is called 'cross-contamination'. This can increase our risk of getting infected.

To help avoid this, separate foods to prevent germs spreading. Use different chopping boards and knives, and wash your hands.

How to lower your risk of getting sick

Here are some main things to remember:

  • Make sure to cook food properly.
  • Keep things clean when buying, transporting, storing, and preparing food. Kitchen surfaces and utensils, shopping bags, and hands can all spread the bacteria.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap, especially after the toilet, handling high-risk foods, and contact with pets or farm animals.

Tips to keep germs from spreading

  • Wash and dry hands every time raw meat is handled.
  • Keep raw meat (including thawed meat) separate from other foods to make sure its juices don't drip onto other food.
  • Store raw meat (especially raw chicken) below ready-to-eat food in the refrigerator.
  • Ensure any frozen meat is thoroughly defrosted before cooking.
  • Use different chopping boards and utensils – one for raw meat and one for cooked food.

Cooking chicken and red meat

  • Pre-cook meat (especially chicken) before barbecuing.
  • Cook meat (especially chicken meat and chicken livers, and mince) thoroughly. Cook the meat all the way through. Make sure chicken juices run clear. If you can, use a meat thermometer. Use one of the following temperature/time combinations at the thickest part – 65 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes; 70 degrees Celsius for 2 minutes.

Advice on water, fruit and vegetables, raw milk, and washing chicken

  • Boil drinking water if you're not sure how safe it is.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables carefully, especially if you're eating them raw.
  • Avoid drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk.
  • Do not wash raw chicken. Some people wash chicken to clean it, but this can actually spread bacteria to other items in the kitchen.

Campylobacter in New Zealand

In 2006, New Zealand had one of the highest reported rates of Campylobacter infections in the world. It had 379 cases per 100,000 people. Since then, our management strategy has helped to reduce the disease to 126.1 cases per 100,000 people (as of 2019).

Our Campylobacter research and risk management work

We do research and risk management work on Campylobacter and other foodborne illnesses.

Campylobacter food safety research and risk management 

More food safety advice

Find general food safety tips, including proper handwashing technique

Clean, Cook, Chill

Food safety for people with low immunity

Food safety for pregnant women

Food poisoning and bacteria and viruses in food

Raw milk and its risks

Food safety when you're sick

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