Campylobacter is the most common form of foodborne illness in Scotland - a situation which is similar to the UK and most of the developed world.


Illness usually lasts around a week and is characterised by diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever, and, in some cases, nausea and vomiting. For some patients, Campylobacter can result in much more serious illness post infection, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), reactive arthritis and, in rare cases, Guillain-Barré syndrome – a serious condition of the nervous system. At its worst, Campylobacter can kill.

What causes Campylobacter?

Campylobacter can be found in the intestinal tract of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, wild birds and domestic pets. It can be transmitted to humans via animal faeces and contaminated meat. Because of this, Campylobacter is part of a group of diseases called zoonoses- infections which can be passed from animals to humans.

Campylobacter in chickens

Campylobacter is particularly prevalent in the gut of poultry where it can grow to high levels without causing any illness in the animal. It is therefore difficult to control in the chicken production chain.

FSS has commissioned research with the University of Aberdeen to improve our understanding of the most important causes of Campylobacter in humans in the Scottish population. The results of this research indicate that the types of Campylobacter identified in human infection in Scotland are most closely associated to those found in raw chicken (52%), followed by cattle (11%), sheep (26%), pigs (2%) and wild birds (8%), as indicated by the graph below:

This research provides evidence that the most important source of infection is chicken which has either been consumed raw or undercooked or has spread Campylobacter to other foods through cross-contamination.

Avoiding cross contamination

For more information, visit Food Standards Scotland for cross-contamination guidance. Although E.coli is the key focus of this guidance, the measures outlined will also help in the control of other bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella.

Campylobacter collaboration

Campylobacter reduction is a key priority for Food Standards Scotland and we collaborate with partners in Scotland including Health Protection Scotland and Scottish Government.  This is to understand how people in Scotland can become infected with Campylobacter and other zoonotic bacteria through the environment and identify ways that they can protect themselves from the risks of exposure.

FSS also works closely with Food Standards Agency (FSA) to tackle the Campylobacter problem.  The FSA is leading work to reduce Campylobacter in UK produced chicken through a retail survey where whole chickens are tested fro the presence of campylobacter. 

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Foodborne Illness

A key priority for Food Standards Scotland is to protect consumers in Scotland from the risks of foodborne illness.

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