A total of 16 broiler flocks slaughtered in the morning in eight Belgian poultry slaughterhouses were examined for the presence of Campylobacteraceae. In samples collected before and after chilling, the prevalence of arcobacters was found to be higher than the prevalence of thermophilic campylobacters, with the slaughter procedure used having no clear effect. Two slaughterhouses were selected for a detailed investigation of the occurrence and distribution of arcobacters. Sampling carried out before slaughter revealed that both Arcobacter butzleri and Arcobacter cryaerophilus were commonly present on the slaughter equipment in both plants. These findings indicate inadequate decontamination of the slaughterhouse environment and suggest potential Arcobacter contamination of broiler carcasses through the slaughter equipment. Even before evisceration, contamination levels of hundreds to several thousands of arcobacters per gram of neck skin were detected. It appears unlikely that contamination through slaughter equipment alone explains the high contamination levels found for poultry products. Arcobacters were not isolated from the 30 intestinal tracts sampled for each broiler flock examined. A. cryaerophilus was the only Arcobacter species recovered from the transport crate samples collected before and after washing. Arcobacter contamination during slaughter, either direct (from chicken intestinal content or feces) or indirect (from equipment), was not confirmed. The origin and the precise routes of contamination remain to be determined.

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