Campylobacter is a bacterium that can be found in raw chicken meat, offal, raw milk and raw milk products, and other foods. Find out how Campylobacter can make you ill, and ways to avoid infection.

Symptoms of Campylobacter infection

Campylobacter causes the gastrointestinal illness campylobacteriosis when it colonises the intestine.

If you become infected with Campylobacter, you are likely to become ill within 2 to 5 days, although sometimes it can take up to 10 days. Symptoms include:

  • muscle pain
  • headaches and fever
  • diarrhoea (can be bloody)
  • abdominal pain.

The illness lasts about 5 days.

How you can be exposed to Campylobacter

There are many ways you can be exposed to Campylobacter. The bacteria have been found in poultry, raw milk, offal such as chicken livers, and a variety of other foods. Besides handling raw chicken in your own kitchen, the most commonly reported ways to be exposed are from:

  • eating bought food – for example, takeaways and at restaurants
  • contact with farm animals
  • drinking untreated water
  • contact with faecal matter
  • 'recreational water' like rivers and lakes.

You may also be exposed through contact with pets, birds, other animals, infected people, soil or objects contaminated by animals.

How you can avoid Campylobacter infection

You can reduce your risk of campylobacteriosis by using good hygiene practices when buying, transporting, storing and preparing food. In particular, avoid transferring bacteria from one food to another (cross-contamination), especially to foods that will not be cooked, like salads. Utensils, hands and kitchen surfaces can all transfer bacteria.

Take extra care in the kitchen

Campylobacter can spread in the kitchen by cross-contamination from raw chicken meat, including juices from the meat, to other food, utensils, food contact surfaces and the hands and clothing of food handlers. Freezing chicken meat reduces the numbers of Campylobacter present, but does not guarantee elimination of the bug in the thawed product. Drip from thawed raw chicken can be contaminated with Campylobacter.

Follow these rules to keep safe:

  • Wash and dry hands every time raw chicken is handled.
  • Properly wrap raw chicken and parts including thawed meat to prevent drip contamination.
  • Store raw chicken and parts below ready-to-eat food in the refrigerator.
  • Ensure any frozen chicken and parts are thoroughly defrosted before cooking.
  • Use a separate chopping board and utensils for raw chicken and parts and another set for cooked food.
  • Pre-cook chicken before barbecuing.
  • Cook chicken meat and chicken livers thoroughly to one of the following temperature/time combinations at the thickest part – 65 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes; 70 degrees Celsius for 2 minutes, or 75 degrees Celsius for 15 seconds.

Do not wash:

  • raw chicken carcasses and parts as this helps spread Campylobacter to other items such as hands, clothes, other food, and contact surfaces.

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