Eleven beef abattoirs were visited, each on five separate occasions. On each occasion, an audit was carried out according to the official Hygiene Assessment System (HAS) and 10 carcases were sampled at four different sites to assess total viable counts and counts of presumptive coliform bacteria. The HAS scores ranged from 11 to 84 (maximum 100), and the logarithmic mean total viable counts for all sampling sites on each batch of carcases varied between 1.98 and 4.14 colony forming units/cm2. The mean prevalence of coliform contamination ranged from 0 to 85 per cent. There was a significant negative correlation (P<0.001) between the mean HAS scores and the mean total viable count for each abattoir, but not between the HAS scores and the numbers of coliforms. Within the HAS, the mean scores for all five categories, before weighting, showed a significant correlation with the mean total viable count (P<0.001); however, the categories concerned with slaughter and dressing, and personnel and practices were of most value in determining trends in carcase contamination. A new advisory classification is proposed for levels of microbial contamination on beef carcases.