Chicken outstripped sales of beef and lamb from the
mid-80s to become New Zealand's biggest source of meat protein. However, soaring
campylobacter illness rates branded chicken as cheap dirty food.
The New Zealand Herald has reported that in 2006, chicken sales and
production fell and has failed to re-gather momentum amid concerns about
contamination from fresh cuts packed in supermarkets. Campylobacter is the major
foodborne disease focus, with reported illness rates considerably higher than
from salmonella or listeria. From the early 90s, NZ's rates of illness kept pace
with rising chicken consumption.
Chicken may resume position
Two years ago, public health expert Dr Michael Baker and colleagues at the
Otago University School of Medicine called for fresh chicken cuts to be
withdrawn from sale until the industry "got its act together". The industry
resisted the ban, and the Food Safety Authority opted to work with the industry
to tackle campylobacter rates.
Since countermeasures began a year ago, monthly infection reports have
dropped to their lowest level in 10 years. The 10,591 cases notified in the year
to 30 March represent a 35% drop on the previous year. Additionally, figures for
January - end April 2008 are less than half those for the corresponding months
Measures for processing plants
Since April 2007, it became mandatory for poultry processing plants to
record and report levels of the bacteria. New codes of practice have also been
developed for farms and processors. The FSA then announced in September that as
of April, plants with unacceptably high levels of bacteria risked having all
produce frozen or plant closure.
FSA's principal risk management adviser, Judi Lee, said the target selected
should result in a 90% reduction in campylobacter levels in pre-packed raw
Cooperation from the industry
Executive director of the Poultry Industry Association, Michael Brooks,
said processors have co-operated to an unprecedented extent to beat the bug and
are sharing their practices. Additionally, changes in the spin chiller phase of
processing have occurred. Carcases are chilled in a water bath before further
processing, ensuring crates are clean and dry before transport. This has helped
break the cycle of contamination between farm and processing plant.
Brooks predicts further gains from steps yet to come, including a possible
switch from supermarket packing to packing at the processing plant.
Baker applauds the progress, but notes that the drop in reported
campylobacter illnesses confirms chicken's dominant role in the epidemic. "The
industry has obviously been highly motivated and incentivised to get its act
(Source: New Zealand Herald)