Campylobacter and Food Poisoning. Campylobacter jejuni, a gram-negative bacterium, is the most commonly reported bacterial cause of human foodborne infection in the United States and other developed countries. A recent estimate by the CDC indicates that Campylobacter is not only among the most common causes of domestically acquired foodborne illnesses in humans (over 800,000 cases per year), but also is among the leading causes of hospitalization (over 8,000 annually) in the United States.
      Campylobacter infection of humans displays a marked seasonality, peaking in late spring and early summer, possibly due to increased risk of exposure from barbecues or swimming in contaminated streams or ponds. The majority of Campylobacter infections are sporadic single cases or small family outbreaks and sources are rarely identified since often the suspected food has been consumed or is no longer available.
     Infection in humans causes acute (bloody) diarrhea lasting about five days, accompanied by fever and abdominal pain; the incubation period is two to seven days. Approximately 0.05% of patients develop Guillain-Barre syndrome, a temporary inflammation of the nerves causing pain, weakness and paralysis. Antibiotic therapy with fluoroquinolones or macrolides may be required for patients with severe or chronic infections. Medical and productivity costs resulting from C. jejuni infection are estimated at $1.5 to $8.0 billion dollars each year in the United States.
Sources of Campylobacter Food Poisoning. Most human infections result from poor handling of raw chicken or consumption of undercooked poultry or other food products cross-contaminated with raw poultry meat during food preparation. Cross-contamination of other foods in the kitchen has been identified as a major contributing cause of foodborne illness. The predominant role of poultry in human campylobacteriosis is supported by the high prevalence of Campylobacter in both live birds and on carcasses, epidemiological studies, and detection of identical genotypes in both poultry and human infections. In addition, risk factors for human campylobacteriosis include contact with house pets, consumption of raw milk, untreated water, and undercooked beef and pork.
Prevention of Campylobacter Food Poisoning. Safe food handling and proper cooking will help keep you and your family safe from foodborne bacteria. Follow the four food safety steps of USDA's Food Safe Families campaign.  Additional information and videos demonstrating each of these steps can be obtained at

  1. Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often. Illness-causing bacteria can survive in many places around your kitchen, including your hands, utensils, and cutting boards.  Unless you wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces the right way, you could spread bacteria to your food, and your family.

    1. Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and running water.
    2. Wash surfaces and utensils after each use. Bacteria can be spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops. To prevent this, use paper towels or clean clothes to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills.
    3. Wash fruits and veggies—but not meat, poultry, or eggs!
    4. Separate - Don’t cross-contaminate. Placing ready-to-eat food on a surface that held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs can spread bacteria and make you sick. Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Use separate plates and utensils for cooked and raw foods. Before using them again, thoroughly wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
  2. Cook to the right temperature. Cook all poultry to 165 °F (73.9 °C). Cooked food is safe only after it’s been heated to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Color and texture alone won’t tell you whether your food is done. Instead, use a food thermometer to be sure. Bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “Danger Zone” between 40˚F and 140°F.
  3. Chill and refrigerate promptly. Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours and in the summer, cut this time down to one hour. Cold temperatures slow the growth of illness-causing bacteria. Illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them. Your refrigerator should be between 40 ˚F and 32 ˚F, and your freezer should be 0 ˚F or below. Pack your refrigerator with care. Remember to store leftovers within two hours as well.

Rinsing or Soaking Chicken. Washing raw poultry before cooking is not recommended. Bacteria in poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. This is called cross-contamination. Rinsing or soaking chicken does not destroy bacteria. Only cooking will destroy any bacteria that might be present on fresh chicken.
Fresh Chicken. Chicken is kept cold during distribution to retail stores to prevent the growth of bacteria and to increase its shelf life.  Chicken should feel cold to the touch when purchased.  Select fresh chicken just before checking out at the register. Put packages of chicken in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce. Make the grocery store your last stop before going home.
     At home, immediately place chicken in a refrigerator that maintains a temperature of 40 °F (4.4 °C) or below.  Use chicken within 1 or 2 days, or freeze it at 0 °F (-17.8 °C). If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely. Chicken may be frozen in its original packaging or repackaged. If freezing chicken longer than 2 months, overwrap porous store plastic packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper, or place the package inside a freezer bag. Use these materials or airtight freezer containers to freeze the chicken from opened packages or repackage family packs of chicken into smaller amounts.
Safe Thawing. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recommends three ways to thaw chicken: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Never thaw chicken on the counter. It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Boneless chicken breasts, bone-in parts, and whole chickens may take 1 to 2 days or longer to thaw. Once raw chicken thaws, it can be kept in the refrigerator an additional day or two before cooking. During this time, if chicken thawed in the refrigerator is not used, it can safely be refrozen without cooking it first.
Chicken may be thawed in cold water in its airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag.  Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. A whole (3- to 4-pound) broiler-fryer or package of parts should be thawed in 2 to 3 hours. A 1-pound package of boneless breasts will thaw in an hour or less.  Cook immediately after thawing.
     Chicken that was thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing because some areas may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed. Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.
     Do not cook frozen chicken in a slow cooker or in the microwave; thaw it before cooking.  However, chicken can be cooked from the frozen state in the oven or on the stove.  Cooking time may be about 50 percent longer.
Safe Cooking. USDA’s FSIS  recommends cooking whole chicken to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C) as measured with a food thermometer. Check internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. When cooking pieces, breasts, drumsticks, thighs, and wings should be cooked until they reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C). For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook poultry to higher temperatures.
Microwave Directions. Microwave on medium-high (70 percent power): whole chicken, 9 to 10 minutes per pound; bone-in parts and Cornish hens, 8 to 9 minutes per pound; boneless breasts halves, 6 to 8 minutes per pound. Place whole chicken in an oven cooking bag or in a covered microwavable pot. Do not microwave a stuffed chicken. Food cooks so quickly in a microwave oven that the stuffing might not have enough time to reach the safe minimum internal temperature needed to destroy harmful bacteria. When microwaving parts, arrange in a dish or on a rack so thick parts are toward the outside of dish and thin or bony parts are in the center. For boneless breast halves, place in a dish with 1/4 cup water; cover with plastic wrap. Allow 10 minutes standing time for bone-in chicken; 5 minutes for a boneless breast.
USDA Poultry Preparation Fact Sheet. Information presented above is provided by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Additional and more detailed information concerning “Chicken from Farm to Table” can be accessed at
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