Sources and spread of thermophilic Campylobacter spp. during partial depopulation of broiler chicken flocks

V. M. Allen*, H. Weaver, A. M. Ridley, J. A. Harris, M. Sharma, J. Emery, N. Sparks, M. Lewis, S. Edge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The practice of partial depopulation or thinning (early removal of a portion of birds from a commercial broiler flock) is a reported risk factor for Campylobacter colonization of residual birds because of the difficulty in maintaining biosecurity during the thinning process. The effect of this practice was studied in detail for 51 target flocks, each at a different growing farm belonging to one of seven major poultry companies throughout the United Kingdom. On 21 of these farms, the target flock was already colonized by Campylobacter, and at slaughter all cecal samples examined were positive, with a mean of 8 log CFU/g. An additional 27 flocks became positive within 2 to 6 days of the start of thinning and had similarly high levels of cecal carriage at slaughter. Just before the thinning process, Campylobacter was isolated frequently from the farm driveways, transport vehicles, equipment, and personnel. Strains from seven farms on which flocks became colonized after thinning were examined by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis typing. An association was found between strains occurring at specific sampling sites and those isolated subsequently from the thinned flocks. The results indicated that particular strains had spread from one farm to another when the farms were jointly owned by the same company and employed the same bird-catching teams and/or vehicles. These results highlight the need for better hygiene control in relation to catching equipment and personnel and more effective cleaning and disinfection of vehicles and bird-transport crates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-270
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of food protection
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes




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