Trading Standards Institute Advice

Food borne illness and contamination: Campylobacter

This leaflet is for all food businesses, including those involved in catering, food production, food preparation, retail premises, restaurants, pubs, cafes, and fast-food shops.

What is Campylobacter?
Campylobacter is the biggest cause of bacterial food poisoning in the UK and spreads easily. It is often associated with animals and can be found in raw poultry and meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water.

Illness from Campylobacter usually happens in single, scattered or isolated unpredictable cases. A very small number of Campylobacter bacteria can cause illness, but it is rare for infection to pass from one person to another by contact. Larger outbreaks of Campylobacter are usually linked to unpasteurised milk or contaminated water. 

Some people get this infection from handling domestic pets such as dogs or cats, or from contact with farm animals and wildlife, or from milk delivered to your doorstep if the top has been pecked by birds.

Campylobacter can also be passed through swimming or taking part in water sports in contaminated waters.

Campylobacter causes the greatest number of cases of food borne illness in the UK each year. There were over 90,000 reported cases of Campylobacter in the UK in 2010

How does food get contaminated?
Unpasteurised milk can become contaminated if the cow has a Campylobacter infection in its udder or if its milk is contaminated with manure. 

Water can become contaminated from the faeces (droppings) of cows or birds.

Campylobacter can be transferred from the intestines to the meat of an animal when slaughtered, so it may be found in undercooked meat.

Campylobacter can spread through a chicken flock through its drinking water. Providing clean, chlorinated water for the chickens might prevent Campylobacter infections in poultry flocks and reduce the amount of contaminated meat that reaches the marketplace.

Food catering and preparation
Good food hygiene can stop bacteria spreading to other foods. Many cases of illness are linked to poor food handling - for example, from cross-contamination or not keeping raw and cooked food apart, or eating raw or undercooked poultry and meat.

You should never prepare poultry on a cutting board and then use the same board or utensil to prepare cooked food as this can lead to contamination.

Which foods are most at risk of contamination or infection?
Foods normally linked with Campylobacter include:

  • raw (unpasteurised) milk
  • untreated water
  • raw or undercooked poultry and meat
  • shellfish (this is rare)

Campylobacter can also be found in untreated water.

What are the effects and symptoms of Campylobacter?
Symptoms can appear between one to 11 days after infection. Normally, the victim may get a fever, headaches, feel sick, get stomach cramps or have serious diarrhoea, which may have blood in it. These symptoms often appear two to five days after they are infected. They may also be sick, but this is rare.

Symptoms may last between two days to a week, but it may take a victim up to 10 days to recover. Campylobacter sometimes spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection to people with poor immune systems. Although unlikely the victim may also get painful and swollen joints, or serious weakness and may be unable to move.

How do I control or prevent Campylobacter?
You need to make sure that anyone with diarrhoea does not handle food. Those members of your staff that handle food or work with the elderly or children must have no symptoms for 48 hours before they can return to work.

Keep food in a fridge at 5°C or below. Make sure raw meat does not come into contact with food that is ready to eat, such as cooked meat or salads, as the bacteria can spread to that food.

Keep raw meat separate from other food, and clean all knives, chopping boards and work surfaces properly.

Use separate cutting boards for raw foods. Use different coloured boards to identify them for different uses.

Carefully clean and disinfect all cutting boards, worktops, knives and utensils after preparing raw food.

Wash hands thoroughly between handling raw and cooked or ready-to-eat food

If you cook food properly, this will kill any Campylobacter and prevent infection. Always make sure meat is cooked properly. You can normally tell when meat is cooked properly if the juices run clear from the thickest part of the joint, but use a probe thermometer to check this. Cooking temperatures of at least 75°C should be achieved.

You should wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap before and after you prepare or serve food.

You should always wash your hands before you eat, after you go to the toilet, after you have handled a nappy, after you have worked in the garden or after you have handled pets and animals.

You can wear gloves if you need to, but you must change them regularly as they may carry an infection.

If you wear gloves you should still wash your hands.

If you wear rings and bangles this can prevent you from washing your hands properly and they can also transfer bacteria to food. Jewellery should not be worn when preparing food.


  • enough wash basins exclusively for hand washing
  • wash basins that are in a convenient place and easy to use
  • wash basins that are close to toilets, near the kitchen entrance and that have hot and cold running water
  • liquid soap dispensers and paper towels at each wash basin


  • control contamination at all stages of storage, preparation and cooking for which you are responsible - the terms from 'farm to fork' or 'plough to platter' are often used, as contamination can occur throughout the food chain
  • make sure your staff and customers have good personal hygiene awareness
  • regularly wash or throw away dirty kitchen cleaning cloths
  • cook food thoroughly
  • heat-treat milk
  • avoid unpasteurised milk
  • protect milk on doorsteps from birds by having a closed milk bottle container
  • maintain good pet hygiene
  • keep excellent hygiene standards in slaughterhouses
  • chlorinate water

More information
You will find further guidance in our other leaflets on this website. Information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Alternatively, contact your local environmental health service for advice.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

© 2018 itsa Ltd.