January 6, 2021

Campylobacter Infections in Poultry Processing Workers

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal has published a study looking at Campylobacter infections among poultry processing workers. They found 29 cases of lab-diagnosed Campylobacter infections during a three year period from January 2008 to May 2011.

Chicken carcass on lineCampylobacter is common in poultry. Infections sicken an estimated 2.4 million people every year. Most people get sick by eating undercooked poultry or improper handling of raw poultry. A recent study published in BMC Microbiology found Campylobacter bacteria in 41% of boneless, skinless chicken breast samples.

Researchers studied one poultry plant in Virginia. It processed 300,000 birds every day. Of the 29 people who were diagnosed with Campylobacter infections, 23 were infected with C. jejune, 1 with C. coli, and 5 with an unspecified Campylobacter species.

Most of the cases occurred among employees in the live-hang area. They lift chicken from a supply conveyer and hand them by their feet from a shackle conveyor, so they have contact with feathers, skin, crop, cloaca, and feces of the birds. The study also revealed that 83% of those infected had worked at the plant less than a month before becoming ill. And almost all of the sickened employees lived in state operated diversion centers.

It may be that long-term workers develop immunity to the bacteria. But the number of Campylobacter infections may be much higher than the study indicates, since the facility does not have paid sick leave, and workers don’t have easy access to medical care. Employees may be reluctant to report illness or call in sick because they lose wages.

The study’s authors recommend that these facilities should work to improve sanitation, install hands-free soap dispensers, and improve ventilation systems. More employee training, in both Spanish and English, should be provided to teach compliance with hand hygiene and personal protective equipment. And these facilities should keep good records of employee illness and make sure that all cases and outbreaks of bacterial infections are reported to health departments.


  1. Stephen Ruggero says

    Thanks for the well-written article. I fought Campy and Salmonella infections while working in a poultry facility. My doctor was very hesitant to prescribe antibiotics. One of the worst side effects of both was a compromised immune system leading to a re-occurence of the symptoms. Most web sites say Campylobacter infection clears up within 5-10 days. I would say if one stayed home and rested the whole time that is possible but, in the real world, no work equals no pay. This compounds the problem. In my plant, the live hang employees had the fastest turnover – and I was more hopeful for them when they left.

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