This study determined the distribution patterns of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground beef when a contaminated beef trim was introduced into a batch of uncontaminated beef trims prior to grinding in a small-scale laboratory grinder. A beef trim (15.3 ± 2 g) was inoculated with a rifampicin-resistant strain of E. coli O157:H7 (E. coli O157:H7rif) and introduced into a stream of noncontaminated beef (322 ± 33 g) prior to grinding. Seven inoculum levels (6, 5, and 4 total log CFU [high]; and 3, 2, 1, and 0 total log CFU [low]) were studied in triplicate. E. coli O157:H7rif was not detected in 3.1 to 43% of the ground beef inoculated with the high levels or in 3.4 to 96.9% of the ground beef inoculated with the low levels. For all inoculum levels studied, the five ground beef fractions (each 7.8 ± 0.6 g) with the highest pathogen levels accounted for 59 to 100% of the total pathogens detected. For all inoculum levels, there was a linear relationship between the quantity of ground beef containing E. coli O157:H7rif and the inoculum level. The quantity of E. coli O157:H7rif in the beef remaining in the grinder was proportional to the inoculum level and was related to the location in the grinder. Different components of the grinder accumulated E. coli O157:H7rif in different quantities, with the most significant accumulation being in the nut (collar) that attaches the die to the blade. This study determined specific distribution patterns of E. coli O157:H7rif after the grinding of a contaminated beef trim along with uncontaminated trims, and the results indicate that the grinding operation should be regarded as a means of distribution of microbial contamination in risk analyses of ground beef operations.
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