The greater focus on more sustainable diets may increase demand for chicken, which is the meat with the lowest carbon footprint. However, chicken is also the food source that most frequently gives Danes and Europeans campylobacter infections, which is a major challenge for the food industry.
Because chicken may become an even more popular food in future, it is important to gain more knowledge about and develop more solutions for reducing the presence of campylobacter bacteria in broiler chickens. By 2025, chicken producers will also have to comply with stricter EU rules on preventing campylobacter in chicken meat.
Moreover, free-range flocks of broiler chickens are far more often campylobacter-positive than conventional flocks. This is because they roam outside, where the bacterium occurs naturally. Existing measures used for conventional broilers such as increased biosecurity and fly nets are therefore not practical for free-range and organic broiler chickens.
Promising methods to be tested on a larger scale
In the SafeChicken project, researchers from DTU National Food Institute and DTU’s Department of Chemical Engineering will work with the Danish chicken producer Danpo and the Icelandic company Thor Ice Chilling Solutions to develop and test ways of producing chicken meat containing fewer campylobacter bacteria.
The project will test methods in different parts of the food chain in the production of both organic and conventional broiler chickens by: adding selected substances to the chickens’ feed and water which have the potential to prevent the growth of campylobacter bacteria in the chickens; reducing the prevalence of the bacteria in the environment with a new decontamination technology; and reducing bacteria on the carcasses by using a special cooling technology.
Some of the methods have already been tested and have shown promising results on a small scale under controlled conditions. To ensure that they are applicable in practice, also for free range and organic chicken production, the project partners will investigate and document the methods’ effectiveness under normal production conditions. They will also assess the extent to which each measure can help lower the risk of humans becoming infected and sick from campylobacter bacteria.
Combatting campylobacter from a ‘green’ perspective
The fewer bacteria chicken meat contains, the longer the meat can stay fresh. This will also result in fewer withdrawals of goods that have to be destroyed due to unacceptable levels of campylobacter. This will help to achieve the UN Sustainable Goal no. 12 concerning responsible consumption and production.
As part of the Green Development and Demonstration Programme (GUDP), the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries has allocated DKK 7.4 million for the three-year project, which is led by DTU National Food Institute.