National Microbiological Baseline Study in Broiler Chicken
December 2012 – December 2013

Introduction

The federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments in Canada began developing a Pathogen Reduction Initiative (PRI) for meat and poultry under ministerial direction in July 2009. This was initiated to strengthen the Canadian food safety system with the primary goal of decreasing the incidence and economic impact of foodborne illness by reducing pathogen contamination of meat and poultry. A baseline sampling plan for Canada was introduced at the national stakeholder information session of February 2011 which identified Campylobacter and Salmonella on raw broiler chicken as a priority meat-hazard combination for baseline work. Campylobacter and Salmonella have been known to cause a significant health burden and cost in Canada (Majowicz et al., 2006; Thomas et al., 2006) and serve as continual sources of acute gastroenteritis worldwide (Flint et al., 2005). The lack of representative and harmonized baseline data on these pathogens along the food chain in Canada has been recognized as an important knowledge gap for the development of pathogen reduction strategies.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and other international food safety regulators have conducted national microbiological baseline studies (MBS) to set and measure progress against pathogen reduction targets or performance standards and to inform the development of risk management programs. FSIS has implemented tighter performance standards for Salmonella and new standards for Campylobacter in poultry beginning July 2011 based on the results of the 2007-08 baseline study in broiler chicken processed in federal plants. Similarly, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) set a new target for the reduction of Campylobacter levels on raw chicken in December 2010 following the 2007-08 retail chicken study (FSA, 2009). More recently, FSIS is planning to release new performance standards for both pathogens in chicken parts by the end of the 2015 fiscal year (FSIS, 2013; Food Safety News, 2014). Several strategies and control guidelines have been published by national authorities (FSIS, 2010; EFSA, 2011) and international organizations (FAO/WHO, 2009; CAC, 2011) to reduce Campylobacter and Salmonella along the broiler chain, with proposals to achieve performance targets.

Under the work conducted by the FPT Pathogen Reduction Working Group, the CFIA undertook a national microbiological baseline study to estimate the prevalence and concentration of Campylobacter and Salmonella in broiler chicken and chicken meat produced across Canada.  The main objective of this MBS was to estimate the prevalence and concentration of Salmonella and Campylobacter in broiler chicken from farm production to the retail market. This report provides a summary of the study design and associated methodologies as well as a descriptive analysis of microbiological data from the examination of broiler chicken lots, whole carcasses and parts processed in federally-registered establishments and sold in retail food outlets in Canada. The prevalence presented in this report should not be considered as the national prevalence, but rather the proportion of samples that tested positive. The calculated weighted national prevalence estimates for these pathogens will be reported in a separate publication describing the epidemiological and inferential statistical analysis in detail.

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