Campylobacter is the most common food-bourne infection in the world, and this is especially true in Europe with hundreds of thousands of cases of campylobateriosis seen each year. From a significant increase in cases in 2013, incident rates have been falling and, thankfully, are now back under the 2012 level. However campylobacter infection rates are still significantly higher than salmonella infection which sees only around 80,000 cases each year throughout Europe. New proactive testing methods for campylobacter are being brought in to test poultry, the principal source of infection, prior to slaughter and this can account for the reduction in incident rates since 2013.
These new proactive testing methods are as follows: Samples are taken from poultry and transported to nearby laboratories where they undergo PCR testing to determine whether or not campylobacter is present. The results of positively identified samples are returned to the farm sites where corresponding animals are separated from the main flock and instead of these animals being slaughtered for mass fresh chicken distribution they are utilised as processed meats. This method of testing has shown good results, but there are some major issues with it. The turnaround times for sample results are fine when testing laboratories are close to the farm. But for more remote farms, this is not a viable option, unless animals are placed in holding cages for quite a long time. There are also accuracy issues with quite a few infected animals being missed or misidentified. Misidentification has been attributed to the transportation of the samples or the initial sample gathering.
TNO lead researcher, Jos van der Vossen is investigating ways to speed up the testing process and improve the accuracy of identifying campylobacter in poultry through the use of mobile PCR testing.
By utilising a mobile qPCR testing device, remote locations would have the same access to fast results, better incentivising the testing process. It would also improve the overall accuracy with equivical samples able to be retaken immediately combined with the accuracy of qPCR itself being very high.
Campylobacter is an infectious disease that can incapacitate someone for a week or more with diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal cramps. By providing accurate on-farm testing methods, the incident rate of campylobacter can be reduced even further, helping to control or eliminate this common food-bourne infection. Rather than testing the meat once it has been processed and distributed, testing the poultry while still alive can ensure that no part of an infected animal is used unprocessed. Effective implementation of animal testing can give people better peace of mind that the food they are eating is disease free, with an overall reduction in health costs throughout Europe.
Ubiquitome is running a grants program for research groups who would benefit from a mobile qPCR device. Jos van der Vossen has been chosen as one of the finalists. To find out more about the program and view the other finalists, visit the website here.