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Air Vents in Poultry Plant Could Spread Campylobacter

03 March 2013

An inspection by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of a poultry plant in Virginia showed that a health hazard existed at the plant through campylobacter infection.

Most confirmed cases of infection occurred in employees in the live hang area, those who were also residents of a diversion center, and those who worked at the plant for less than a month before illness onset.

Following the inspection the CDC said that measures needed to be taken to prevent further infection including engineering controls to reduce exposures to employees by removing the hazard from the process or placing a barrier between the hazard and the employee.

The inspectors called for:

  • The istallation of hands-free soap dispensers and hands-free waste receptacles at all hand washing stations to minimize employee contact with surfaces that may be contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria or other infectious organisms.
  • The removal of two water coolers from the live hang area to help limit contamination of drinking water with poultry matter.
  • Sanitising and drying transport cages thoroughly.
  • Modifying the supply vents in the live hang area to redirect the airflow vertically downward from above the employees’ heads toward the floor and away from the live hang conveyor.
  • Other strategies to reduce airborne contaminants in the live hang area including repositioning of supply air ducts away from the employees and conveyors.
  • Wet down birds before they are shackled [Ortiz Continuedet al. 1990]. This may reduce aerosolization of contaminants on birds but may make the chickens harder to grasp.

The inspectors were called in to the plant following concern the occurrence among employees.

The inspection found 29 cases of laboratory-confirmed Campylobacter infection among plant employees during a 3½-year period.

Most of these employees worked in the live hang area, worked at the plant for less than a month before illness onset, and were residents of a diversion center (a residential program operated by the Virginia Department of Corrections).

The inspectors also found that approximately 15 per cent of more than 3,000 encounters at the plant’s medical office from January 2010 through September 2011 were related to gastrointestinal symptoms.

In addition, almost one third of the 88 employees interviewed reported being ill with gastrointestinal symptoms in a 5-month period before the interview, and fewer than half of these employees reported their illness to the plant.

The inspectors observed inconsistent hand hygiene and PPE use in the live hang area; these observations agreed with the self-reported practices of interviewed employees.

They also found that the ventilation system had 20 supply air vents above the heads of the live hang area employees. These vents directed air at a downward angle toward the conveyor where the chickens were located before they were shackled.

This could have led to the potential to aerosolize or spread potential contamination from the birds to the live hang area employees. Chlorine levels in the water immersion chillers, as reported on the company logs, were within the USDA requirement of 20–50 ppm.

February 2013

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