Food Safety

Raising the Bar: How to Conquer Campylobacter in Foodservice

Posted by
Trust20 Contributors • 8 minute read

Campylobacter is not just a complex scientific term–it is a very real threat that should send shivers down your spine. 

Unfortunately, Campylobacter, also known as Campylobacteriosis, is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in the United States, responsible for more than 1.5 million documented illnesses each year.1 Symptoms can range from very mild to severe, and sadly, the numbers are rising.

If you think this is just a run-of-the-mill bacteria, think again. Not only is Campylobacter growing more common, but it’s also been documented lately as becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.2

That’s the bad news. The good news is that, as foodservice professionals, we can do plenty to prevent this dangerous illness.

What is Campylobacter?

What Are the Symptoms of a Campylobacter Infection?

How Long Does Campylobacter Last?

How to Prevent Campylobacter Exposure in Foodservice

What to Do if There’s a Campylobacter Outbreak

What is Campylobacter?

Before you can start fighting a war against Campylobacter, you need to fully understand your enemy.

It refers to a group of bacteria that cause various foodborne illnesses

The most common species, C. jejuni, is responsible for most human infections. These little critters are shaped like a spiral or a corkscrew, which allows them to tunnel into things like poultry and unpasteurized milk, setting the stage for gastrointestinal drama in the humans they encounter.

Interestingly, Campylobacter was a late bloomer in terms of foodborne illness “fame,” not being widely recognized or researched in humans until the 1970s (it was widely studied in veterinary medicine).3 But it quickly made up for lost time, becoming one of the world's leading bacterial causes of food poisoning. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Campylobacter Infection?

Campylobacter infections present similarly to other foodborne illnesses. They range from subtle hints of nausea to fever, stomach cramps, muscle pain, and more. Unfortunately, Campylobacter is the type of infection that can keep you shackled to your bathroom for days on end.

One of the most defining features of a Campylobacter infection is the onset of illness–usually, it’s a couple of days after consuming contaminated food or water. 

And talk about durability–unlike other illnesses that are more short-lived, Campylobacter tenders the most unpleasant parting gifts in the form of a week’s worth of these nasty symptoms. This illness won’t be one you’ll get rid of any time fast.

Just when you think it’s over, the worst could be yet to come. Campylobacter has also been known to give a final parting shot in the form of irritable bowel syndrome, which can linger for years.4 

Who is Most At Risk for Serious Complications?

You might think you need a weakened immune system to succumb to Campylobacter's more dire effects, but the truth is, none of us are immune to complications.

However, very young children, older adults, and individuals with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for developing more severe, even life-threatening, complications. 

For most of us, Campylobacter will be merely a tummy bug. 

However, for some, it’s a quick ticket to the emergency room and can cause serious neurological conditions. 

In addition to increasing the risk of IBS, Campylobacter can also lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nervous system. It's been recognized as one of the leading causes of paralysis in the United States. 

How Long Does Campylobacter Last?

We all know the saying, “This too shall pass,” but as you likely now realize, that is simply not the case with Campylobacter. 

In some severe instances, the bacteria can bed down in your gut for an average of about a week, but the time can vary. 

Again, that’s not even accounting for the risk of IBS or Guillain-Barré syndrome, either. 

How to Prevent Campylobacter Exposure in Foodservice

Now that we know how dangerous Campylobacter can be, we must develop a comprehensive strategy to keep it at bay. Here are some tactics to add to your food safety arsenal. 

1. Vet Your Suppliers

You wouldn’t invite a stranger to dinner at your home, so why would you trust a supplier without verifying their reputation for safety and quality? 

Food safety starts with your suppliers, and you must ensure they take Campylobacter prevention as seriously as you do. Look for those with stringent food safety standards and a track record of delivering uncontaminated products. 

2. Pay Attention to Food Recalls

It is essential to monitor recall alerts and ensure that your restaurant or food service establishment has a system to respond quickly to any recalls.

3. Cook to Proper Temperatures 

Campylobacter, like most bacteria, has a kryptonite–heat.6  

Ensuring that all foods, particularly poultry and other meats, are cooked to their recommended temperature can mean the difference between serving a safe meal and one teeming with pathogens. 

4. Don’t Rely on Freezing

Think again if you’ve been relying on the cold to keep your food safe. Campylobacter can survive freezing, and even popping it in the microwave might not destroy it. 

This bacteria can persist through some heavy-handed techniques. The most surefire way to beat it is to use the right cooking temperatures from the get-go.

5. Practice Good Hand Hygiene

Good hand hygiene is the gold standard of safety in food service.7 Make sure you and your team members thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after handling raw poultry, using the bathroom, or touching surfaces that may be contaminated. 

Also, make sure you’re drying your hands properly–damp hands spread bacteria more easily.

What about hand sanitizer? Hand sanitizer can be a helpful complement in foodservice but should never replace handwashing.

You may also consider wearing gloves when appropriate and changing them between tasks. This step can further help in minimizing the risk of contamination. 

6. Wash and Sanitize Cutting Boards, Countertops, and Utensils

You do not want to mix a festive bowl of Campylobacter into your next poultry dish. Ensure you clean and sanitize all surfaces and utensils after each use, paying special attention to those used on raw poultry. 

7. Watch Out for Cross Contamination

Be it from counter to hands or from raw meat to cooked, cross-contamination is Campylobacter’s favorite weapon. Keep your kitchen surfaces clean, and use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw and cooked foods to avoid stealthy contamination issues. 

8. Keep Cold Foods Cold

Don’t let your refrigerator serve as a breeding ground for bacteria like Campylobacter. Instead, keep it running at a cool temperature to keep cold foods out of Campylobacter’s preferred temperature zones.

Similarly, in storage, keep ready-to-eat and cooked foods separate from raw ones to prevent the spread of bacteria. 

9. Don’t Thaw Foods at Room Temperature

Defrosting food on the counter is like sending out a dinner invitation to bacteria–specifically, to Campylobacter. 

Instead, thaw foods in the refrigerator or under cold running water (when absolutely necessary).

10. Avoid Overpacking the Fridge 

A crowded refrigerator is like a free-for-all party for Campylobacter. Here, bacteria can multiply and easily hitch a ride from one to the other. Keep your refrigerator well-organized and maintain the proper airflow to keep your foods chilled effectively. 

11. Wash All Fruits and Vegetables 

It’s not just meat you need to be cautious with. Fruits and veggies that come in contact with the soil at any point can be Campylobacter’s undercover vehicles as well.8 Giving them a good scrub before serving can wash away potential danger. 

12. Don’t Wash Raw Meat

A common misconception is that washing raw meat helps to get it clean and prevent the spread of bacteria–but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

In fact, washing raw meat simply spreads contaminants around your kitchen. Properly storing and cooking meat is the only way to ensure its safety. 

What to Do if There’s a Campylobacter Outbreak

If Campylobacter manages to enter your kitchen, you must have a swift and organized action plan. 

Your customers’ health is the first and most important concern, but it’s not the only one. Remember, the bad press from a single incidence of foodborne illness can tarnish your reputation and get you shut down by the health department.

Therefore, you must take proactive measures to protect your customers and business.

First, confirm the outbreak. With Campylobacter, this can be tough since the illness often takes so long to manifest any symptoms. However, it’s most often identified by examining a cluster of similar diseases. Contact your local health department immediately if you suspect you might be involved in such an infection. This step will help you stop the spread and pinpoint the source.

In the meantime, you need to go into overdrive on the cleanliness front. Sanitize every tool, surface, and interface in your kitchen. Find the source of the infected food and get rid of it.

Most importantly, communicate. Transparency is your best friend here. Inform your customers of the incident, your response, and what steps they should take if they suspect they’ve consumed the contaminated food. 

Communication during and after a crisis like this builds trust and community support. It shows that you care about your customers' health and are proactive in preventing future incidents.

Final Thoughts

In the dynamic world of foodservice, staying ahead of safety standards isn’t just recommended–it’s a must.

At Trust20, we understand the stakes are high. Every meal you serve reflects your commitment to well-being and excellence. By partnering with us to learn more about food safety in our courses, you’re becoming part of a movement toward a safer, more reliable dining experience. 

Don't wait for the next health crisis to remind you of what's important. Take action today, and make food safety your priority. Together, we can create a future where every dish is as safe as it is delicious.

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  1. CDC: Campylobacter (Campylobacteriosis)

  2. Ana Beatriz Portes et al: Antibiotic Resistance in Campylobacter: A Systematic Review of South American Isolates

  3. JP Butzler et al.: Campylobacter, from obscurity to celebrity

  4. Mayo Clinic: Understanding post-infection irritable bowel syndrome: A large population-based study

  5. CDC: Guillain-Barré Syndrome | Campylobacter 

  6. Oklahoma State Department of Health: Campylobacteriosis

  7. CDC: Prevention

  8. Hooriyeh Mohammadpour et al.: The prevalence of Campylobacter spp. in vegetables, fruits, and fresh produce: a systematic review and meta-analysis