A study was made to evaluate the use of a marker organism for assessing whether hygienic slaughter practices were being followed at red meat abattoirs. The organism, a nonpathogenic strain of Escherichia coli K12 that was resistant to nalidixic acid, was detected and counted on a highly specific isolation medium. With beef carcases, the practice of bagging the excised anus reduced, but did not prevent the spread of the organism from an inoculum applied in the anal region before the hide was removed. The carcases of sheep that were processed at a low-throughput abattoir, were contaminated with the marker after the fleece had been inoculated at a single site. The contamination was significantly reduced (P<0.001) when the operative responsible for flaying had cleaned his hands, arms and apron before and during the handling of each carcase, and used a knife which was freshly pasteurised on several occasions. However, the subsequent washing of carcases had little or no effect on the levels of the marker organism. It was concluded that the marker may be of value in assessing hygiene control, improving present practices, and training abattoir staff.
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