Peripheral lymph nodes (LNs) have been implicated as potential contaminants of ground beef, yet the source and timing of Salmonella LN infection in cattle is still unclear, limiting targeted intervention. The aim of this study was to leverage the vertical integration of special-fed veal production to identify preharvest environmental exposures, specifically in livestock trailers and harvest facility holding pens where calves spend 30 min to 4 h, that result in Salmonella LN infection. Ten cohorts of 80 to 82 veal calves were followed through the harvest process, and environmental samples were collected in barns, trailers, and holding pens. Mesenteric LNs from 35 calves were collected at harvest, and 25 prefemoral LNs per cohort were pooled. Within the same cohort, for 12 samples for which the serovar of the environmental and calf LN Salmonella isolates matched, the isolates were submitted for whole genome sequencing to determine whether environmental exposure resulted in LN infection. Cohort-level Salmonella mesenteric LN prevalence ranged from 0% (0 of 35 samples) to 80% (28 of 35 samples), and pooled prefemoral LNs were positive for Salmonella in 3 of the 10 cohorts. Salmonella prevalence in samples from barns, livestock trailers, and harvest facility holding pens was 22% (13 of 60 samples), 74% (59 of 80 samples), and 93% (74 of 80 samples), respectively. Some environmental and LN isolates were multidrug resistant. Four instances of Salmonella transmission from trailers and/or holding pens to calf LNs were supported by sequence data. Salmonella serovars Agona, Give, and Muenster were identified in transmission events. One instance of transmission from the livestock trailer, two instances from holding pens, and one instance from either trailer or holding pens were observed. Further research is needed to evaluate the extent of environmental Salmonella transmission in cattle and to determine whether targeted interventions in trailers or holding pens could reduce novel Salmonella LN infection in veal calves before harvest.
Salmonella was significantly more prevalent in trailer and pen samples than in barn samples.
Contamination of trailers and holding pens can result in calf LN infection.
Salmonella Dublin was the serovar most frequently recovered from calf LNs.