Campylobacter, Salmonella most common EU foodborne illness

Campylobacter and Salmonella remain key foodborne zoonoses in Europe and latest reports shows that progress in controlling human infection has slowed.

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Campylobacter has been the most commonly reported cause of gastrointestinal disease in humans in the European Union since 2005. pseudolongino |
Campylobacter has been the most commonly reported cause of gastrointestinal disease in humans in the European Union since 2005. pseudolongino |

Campylobacter and Salmonella continue to be the two bacteria responsible for most outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in the European Union (EU).

In 2018, the year for which latest data is available, EU member states reported 5,146 outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, defined as an incident during which at least two people contract the same illness from the same source of contaminated food or drink. Those outbreaks affected 48,365 people.

The EU’s annual report on trends and sources of zoonoses, published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), reveals that Campylobacter resulted in 24,651 infections while salmonellosis was reported in 91,857 individuals. Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections in humans were the third most commonly reported zoonosis in the EU and increased from 2014 to 2018.

The results come from 2018’s monitoring across the EU’s 28 member states and from 8 non-member states. Unlike for STEC, the EU trend for confirmed cases of campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis was stable between 2014 and 2018.

Stability in reported cases does not necessarily equate to a lack of progress in Campylobacter and Salmonella control.

For example, where Salmonella is concerned, of the 27 reporting member states, 16 met all Salmonella reduction targets for poultry whereas 11 failed in meeting at least one target. Despite this failure, and a stabilization in the number of human cases of salmonellosis, the EU flock prevalence of target Salmonella serovars in breeding hens, laying hens, broiler and fattening turkeys has decreased in recent years, but stalled of late breeding turkeys.


Campylobacterioisis has been the most commonly reported gastrointestinal disease in humans in the EU since 2005, with broiler meat and milk considered to be the main source of human infection. Campylobacter resulted in 60 deaths in 2018.

Total confirmed cases of human campylobacteriosis due to all sources of infection stood at 246,571 in 2018, corresponding to a notification rate of 64.1 per 100,000. There were 524 food and waterborne outbreaks resulting in 2,335 human cases.

Sampling for Campylobacter varies across member states. For example, only 10 member states reported data collected as part of the Campylobacter European Process Hygiene Criterion (PHC), which compiles data from samples taken from broiler carcass neck skins collected at slaughterhouses. Of the 3,746 samples from chilled broiler carcasses tested under the PHC, 34.6% tested positive.

Eight of the 10 member states submitting data provided qualified results and, overall, 18.4% of the 2,403 samples exceeded 1,000 CFU/g. However, across member states, results varied widely. In some cases none exceeded limits, while in others all results were above specified limits.

Twenty-one member states reported Campylobacter testing for food. The highest occurrence was found in fresh broiler meat, 37.5% across 18 member states, followed by fresh meat from turkeys, 28.1% across 9 member states. 

2018 saw 19 member states and four non-member states report monitoring data for Campylobacter in animals, with most samples coming from broilers and cattle. The number of tested broiler units was higher compared with 2017, mostly due to the number of member states reporting more than doubling.

Four member states and one non-member state reported on Campylobacter in turkeys. Across the four member states the occurrence was 71.6%.

EFSA notes that it should be remembered that reported cases of Campylobacter are thought to represent only a small number of the infections that occur. Any increase in reported cases may not necessarily be due to changes in exposure, rather, it could simply reflect changes in surveillance or improved diagnostics.


Salmonella accounted for a third of foodborne outbreaks in the EU in 2018, with Slovakia, Spain and Poland accounting for 67% of the 1,581 Salmonella outbreaks. The source of infection was mainly linked to eggs.

Salmonellosis, with a total of 91,857 cases, was the second most commonly reported gastrointestinal infection in humans after campylobacteriosis. However, it was responsible for more deaths – 119 – and more Salmonella, rather than Camplyobacter, infections were attributable to food. The EU notification rate of 20.1 cases per 100,000 of population was the same as in 2017.

Over the five years to 2018, the trend for salmonellosis in humans was stable, following a long period of decline. As in previous years, outbreaks of Salmonella enteriditis accounted for most outbreaks, increasing by 36.6% compared with 2017. Most infections were caused by eggs and egg products.

The report notes that the highest number of Salmonella samples were from poultry and other meats intended to be cooked prior to consumption.

While the prevalence of Salmonella-positive poultry flocks has tended to slightly increase since national control programs were adopted, the increase has been most noticeable in turkey flocks. However, alongside this increase, a decrease was recorded in the prevalence of the target Salmonella serovar-positive flocks across categories between 2007 and 2018. This decrease has been in breeding turkey flocks and the presence of Salmonella serovars fluctuated over time.

Salmonella infantidis was the most reported serovar in chickens, accounting for 36.7% of serotypes isolated. Unlike in previous years, it was widespread among most member states that submitted data from meat chicken flocks. In broilers, S. infantis accounted for 36.5 of all serotypes isolated, while in broiler meat it accounted for 56.7% of isolates.


Salmonella accounted for a third of foodborne outbreaks in the EU in 2018. Tyrannosaurus I


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