Managing the risk of Campylobacter

Campylobacter is the most common cause of foodborne illness in New Zealand. Find out about its effects and how it is spread.


Quick facts

MPI has:

  • helped halve foodborne Campylobacter illness since 2006
  • put controls in place for food processors to limit Campylobacter levels
  • set a goal to reduce foodborne cases by a further 10% by 2020
  • co-led production of international guidelines for controlling Campylobacter in poultry
  • produced international guidance for verifying Campylobacter control in poultry processing.

About Campylobacter

Campylobacter is a bacterium that causes gastrointestinal disease (campylobacteriosis) in people when it lodges in the walls of their intestine. There are 2 main species that cause human illness in New Zealand:

  • Campylobacter jejuni – which causes most foodborne illness
  • Campylobacter coli.

In 2006, New Zealand had one of the highest reported rates of campylobacteriosis worldwide with 379 cases per 100,000 people. Since then, our management strategy has helped to reduce the disease to 125 cases per 100,000 people (around 80 foodborne cases per 100,000 people).

Campylobacter causes, illness and control – fact sheet [PDF, 28 KB]

How we get Campylobacter

The most common and well-known foodborne source of Campylobacter is from poultry meat. We can also get the bacteria from:

  • drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk
  • drinking contaminated water
  • contact with farm animals.

Find out more

Human campylobacteriosis

Human campylobacteriosis is a notifiable disease in New Zealand. That means any cases must be reported to public health authorities.

People infected with Campylobacter are likely to get sick within 2 to 5 days, although sometimes it can take up to 10 days. Symptoms include:

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

Most people feel ill for about a week. The bacteria are shed from the gut (to faeces) for up to 3 weeks and can survive on hands and moist surfaces.

Occasionally, Campylobacter jejuni infection is followed by chronic (long-term) illness such as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).

Campylobacter risk management strategy

Our strategy to manage the risk of foodborne Campylobacter has helped reduce the total campylobacteriosis rate in New Zealand.

Development of the strategy

Foodborne campylobacteriosis increased up to 2006 as New Zealanders ate more poultry that had been bought as chilled rather than frozen meat.

This led to MPI's (then the New Zealand Food Safety Authority's) first Campylobacter risk management strategy that focused on reducing contamination of chicken meat.

Since then, MPI has had 3 further risk management strategies that have evolved to manage poultry and other sources of Campylobacter

What the strategies have achieved

Since 2006, our strategies have reduced foodborne Campylobacter illness in New Zealand by over 50%. Our research and control measures have helped to achieve this.

Graph showing foodborne campylobacteriosis cases per 100,000 people between 2004 (when there were 160 cases per 100,000 people) and 2012 (when there were about 80 cases per 100,000 people).
Foodborne campylobacteriosis has decreased in New Zealand since MPI started targeting it in 2007.

Information helps control Campylobacter

To prioritise our work on Campylobacter, we need to understand the importance of different:

  • sources of Campylobacter
  • ways people get infected. 

Our extensive research on the poultry, meat, and milk food chain, helps us understand the different sources and pathways to infection.

Control through Campylobacter limits

In 2008, MPI introduced the Campylobacter performance target (CPT) – which measured Campylobacter levels in processed chicken – to check how effective our control measures were at reducing levels. 

We continue to use Campylobacter sampling under the National Microbiological Database (NMD) to make sure processors are producing food within safe limits. 

Our current strategy and work

Under MPI's current 2017 to 2020 strategy, we're aiming to reduce human foodborne campylobacteriosis in New Zealand by 10% from 88.4 cases per 100,000 people (2014 rate) to 79.6 cases per 100,000 people by the end of by 2020.

Because poultry continues to be the most common cause of campylobacteriosis, the strategy for 2017 to 2020 mainly focuses on controlling Campylobacter in chicken meat. But MPI is also investigating other potential food sources such as raw drinking milk, ruminants (sheep and cattle), and food handling practices.

Read about the current strategy and its associated work programme:

International influence 

International food safety standards are coordinated through an organisation called Codex. New Zealand and Sweden co-led Codex work to develop the 2011 Guidelines for control of Campylobacter and Salmonella in chicken meat.

In 2014, MPI produced guidance for confirming Campylobacter control in poultry processing. This was published internationally for use and adaptation by other countries.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about MPI's Campylobacter research or our risk management strategy, email info@mpi.govt.nz 

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