This study determined microbiological loads of beef carcasses at different stages during the slaughtering to chilling process in seven (four steer/heifer and three cow/bull) plants. Potential sources of contamination (feces, air, lymph nodes) were also tested. Each facility was visited twice, once in November through January (wet season) and again in May through June (dry season). Carcasses were sampled by aseptic excision of surface tissue (100 cm2) from the brisket, flank, and rump (30 samples each) after hide removal (pre-evisceration), after final carcass washing, and after 24-h carcass chilling. The samples were analyzed individually by standard procedures for aerobic plate counts (APC), total coliform counts (TCC), Escherichia coli biotype I counts (ECC), and presence of Salmonella. Incidence of Salmonella was higher on dry feces of older compared to younger animals, fresh feces of younger compared to older animals, and on cow/bull carcasses compared to steer/heifer carcasses. Most factors and their interactions had significant (P ≤ 0.05) effects on the bacterial counts obtained. Depending on plant and season, APC, TCC, and ECC were ≤104, ≤102, and ≤101 CFU/cm2 in 46.7 to 93.3, 50.0 to 100.0, and 74.7 to 100.0% of the samples, respectively. TCC exceeded 103 CFU/cm2 in 2.5% (wet season) and 1.5% (dry season) of the samples. ECC exceeded 102 CFU/cm2 in 8.7%, 0.3%, and 1.5% of the pre-evisceration, final carcass-washing, and 24-h carcass-chilling samples, respectively, during the wet season; the corresponding numbers during the dry season were 3.5%, 2.2%, and 3.0%, respectively. These data should serve as a baseline for future comparisons in measuring the microbiological status of beef carcasses, as the new inspection requirements are implemented.

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