Using viruses to eliminate certain food poisoning pathogens, such as campylobacter, from poultry products came a step closer following a favourable opinion from The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Bacteriophages are seen by some as a key future tool for controlling campylobacter in European poultry, as on-farm measures are unlikely to be successful on their own.

In its recent opinion, EFSA’s BIOHAZ Panel concluded that under specific conditions, bacteriophages may be very effective in the elimination of specific pathogens from foods.

It follows successful trials carried out by a major Europe-wide project led by Paul Gibbs, principle consultant at Leatherhead Food International. He found that bacteriophages can dramatically reduce salmonella and campylobacter contamination of birds entering processing plants.

Based on his findings, Dr Gibbs believes that a commercial product could soon be available following further development and trials, perhaps within two to three years.

However, the EFSA panel added that it could not conclude whether bacteriophages can offer lasting protection against pathogens and prevent re-contamination.

“Their long-term antibacterial activity is compromised on dry surfaces. Also, the persistence in food varies with each bacteriophage and chemical factors associated with the food including pH.”

It, therefore, called for more research looking at different combinations of bacteriophages, pathogens and foods.

The European Commission had asked EFSA to provide advice on the use of bacteriophages on food of animal origin.