Introduction

Poultry meat is after pork-meat, the world’s most popular animal food product. Its nutritional value, especially with respect to the healthier diets, which are demanded for the young but also for the ageing population, the diversity of available products, its convenience of preparation combined with an attractive price, have given poultry products a ranking above beef and pork products. Additional to these positive aspects poultry meat does not encounter major objections from religious groups.
Over the last 25 years an enormous range of poultry products has been developed. From the whole carcass at the beginning several cuts and many types of convenience food products came to the market. This development has a clear connection with socio-demographic changes in society.
Despite these very positive points, the poultry industry as a whole, faces challenges with respect to animal welfare, environmental and food safety issues.
Of course these challenges are not new, as the industry always has been aware of these aspects. A list of examples of scandals in the food animal industry, which influenced public opinion, can be given. Publicity on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathies (BSE), Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), but mainly on Avian Influenza (AI), has given much more public attention to food safety issues.
Discussions on food safety issues include automatically environmental and animal welfare aspects, even leading to (emotional) opinions on drastic changes of future production.
As these aspects nowadays belong to the “quality of life” feelings of the modern consumer one cannot neglect them when discussing the topic of poultry and public health. As consumer’s demands become more important the production chain has to react. This process of chain reversal started some years ago and due to recent events the implementation was already introduced.


Food safety, public health, bacterial and viral infections

Governments and industry in the whole world have agreed on the need for the production of safe food products, following publicity on animal food safety scandals. In the EU food safety is considered “the most important ingredient of our food”.
One can, however, question whether the measures taken with regard to control food safety are more politically driven and have less to do with concerns about the consumers health.
In relation to food- and waterborne zoonoses in Europe annually around 100 persons die, due to Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli O157H7 and Listeria monocytogenes food infections. Over 2 million Europeans in one way or another suffer from food-borne illness. Annual costs for hospitalisation and absenteism are estimated to be around 500 million Euro’s.
In order to find the origin of human gastro-intestinal infections, some five years ago a study in The Netherlands, faeces of patients were examined and compared with the same of a control group. Campylobacter and to a lesser extent Salmonella are the important organisms. Yersinia, Shigella and Escherichia coli O157H7 seem not to play an important role. Rotavirus and Norwalk like viruses and the parasites Giardia and Cryptosporidium proved to have a distinct role in gastro-intestinal infections. The study could not completely elucidate the causes of a large number of gastro-intestinal infections.
Poultry and poultry products have been found contaminated with Salmonella, Campylobacter and other potentially pathogenic micro-organisms and it is for that reason that poultry products are often named as cause of human food-borne diseases. Results of studies on bacterial infection in humans and contamination of poultry products show that there seems to be a strong relationship with the main groups of organisms.
In poultry Avian Influenza (AI) and New Castle Disease (NCD) are on the OIE list category A. In case of AI the present crises show that there is a serious public health risk, although the mechanisms of infection and spreading are not well understood. With regard to the public health risk one can state that in case of NCD vaccination there only can be a health risk to the workers in case of abuse of the application.
With regard to other mostly viral or combined infections, one should mention Infectious Bronchitis, Avian Pneumovirus, Mycoplasmosis, Colibacillosis, Aflatoxicosis and viruses that produce immunosuppression as Mareks Disease, Chicken Anemia and Infectious Bursal Disease. Vaccination, eradication and hygiene programmes are available, however, with respect to human health risks one should mention the necessary use of antibiotic substances to control the diseases.
With this in mind the information on food safety aspects in the poultry production chain is provided. On several topics the site is continuously under construction and updates shall be accepted gratefully.