The seasonal prevalence of Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella, non-O157 E. coli (STEC), and stx-harboring cells was monitored at three Midwestern fed-beef processing plants. Overall, E. coli O157:H7 was recovered from 5.9% of fecal samples, 60.6% of hide samples, and 26.7% of carcasses sampled before the preevisceration wash. This pathogen also was recovered from 1.2% (15 of 1,232) of carcasses sampled at chilling (postintervention) at approximate levels of <3.0 cells per 100 cm2. In one case, the E. coli O157:H7 concentration dropped from ca. 1,100 cells per 320 cm2 at the preevisceration stage to a level that was undetectable on ca. 2,500 cm2 at the postintervention stage. The prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in feces peaked in the summer, whereas its prevalence on hide was high from the spring through the fall. Overall, Salmonella was recovered from 4.4, 71.0, and 12.7% of fecal, hide, and preevisceration carcass samples, respectively. Salmonella was recovered from one postintervention carcass (of 1,016 sampled). Salmonella prevalence peaked in feces in the summer and was highest on hide and preevisceration carcasses in the summer and the fall. Non-O157 STEC prevalence also appeared to vary by season, but the efficiency in the recovery of isolates from stx-positive samples ranged from 37.5 to 83.8% and could have influenced these results. Cells harboring stx genes were detected by PCR in 34.3, 92.0, 96.6, and 16.2% of fecal, hide, preevisceration carcass, and postintervention carcass samples, respectively. The approximate level of non-O157 STEC and stx-harboring cells on postintervention carcasses was ≥3.0 cells per 100 cm2 for only 8 of 199 carcasses (4.0%). Overall, the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and non-O157 STEC varied by season, was higher on hides than in feces, and decreased dramatically, along with pathogen levels, during processing and during the application of antimicrobial interventions. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of the current interventions used by the industry and highlight the significance of hides as a major source of pathogens on beef carcasses.

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