In this observational study, the variability of broiler carcass bacterial load was investigated at three federally inspected abattoirs, using an automated hydrophobic grid membrane filter interpreter system. The measurement protocol involved: whole carcass rinses aided by a mechanical carcass shaker; filtration of rinse solutions through hydrophobic grid membrane filters (HGMF) (ISO-GRID®, QA Laboratories, Ltd., Toronto, Ont.); and use of an automated HGMF interpreter (MI-100 HGMF Interpreter System, Richard Brancker Research, Ltd., Ottawa, Ont.). Carcass and lot mean bacterial loads were measured, respectively, in units of log10 most probable number (MPN) of mesophylic aerobic colony forming units per gram of carcass (LgMPN/g), and slaughter lot mean LgMPN/g (LMLgMPN/g). Whole carcass rinses were conducted on a total of 1,917 carcasses, among 96 slaughter lots from three abattoirs. Overall, the LgMPN/g ranged from 1.054 to 4.180 with a mean of 2.585 and a variance of 0.263. These corresponded to MPN/g counts from 11 to 15,135 and a geometric mean of 385 MPN/g. Statistically significant differences were observed between abattoirs and between lots within abattoirs. The intra-abattoir correlation coefficient of LgMPN/g was r = 0.180 (p < 0.001). The within abattoir intralot correlation coefficient was r = 0.259 (p < 0.001). In this data set, approximately 56, 26, and 18% of the variability in LgMPN/g were attributed to factors operating at the individual bird, lot, and abattoir levels of organization, respectively. Factors significantly associated with LMLgMPN/g included: abattoir (p < 0.001), transportation time from farm to abattoir (p < 0.001), and waiting time from arrival at the abattoir yard to actual slaughter (p = 0.002). Analysis of a series of five repeat rinses, conducted on one bird from each of the 96 study lots, demonstrated that bacterial counts in the second to fifth sequential rinses were positively associated with the bacterial count of the first rinse. Also, after adjusting for the initial count, a pattern of decreasing counts was observed in subsequent rinses.

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Author notes

1Agriculture Canada, Ontario Region Office, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 3W4, Canada.

2Agri-Food Safety and Strategies Division, Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0Y9, Canada.

3Health of Animals Laboratory, Agriculture Canada, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 3W4, Canada.