The objective of this experiment was to test the hypothesis that cleaning cattle hides by removing hair and extraneous matter before hide removal would result in improved microbiological quality of carcasses in commercial beef processing plants. To test this hypothesis, we examined the effect of chemical dehairing of cattle hides on the prevalence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and the levels of aerobic bacteria and Enterobacteriaceaeon carcasses. Samples from 240 control (conventionally processed) and 240 treated (chemically dehaired before hide removal) hides (immediately after stunning but before treatment) and preevisceration carcasses (immediately after hide removal) were obtained from four visits to a commercial beef processing plant. Total aerobic plate counts (APC) and Enterobacteriaceae counts (EBC) were not (P > 0.05) different between cattle designated for chemical dehairing (8.1 and 5.9 log CFU/100 cm2 for APC and EBC, respectively) and cattle designated for conventional processing (8.0 and 5.7 log CFU/100 cm2 for APC and EBC, respectively). However, E. coli O157:H7 hide prevalence was higher (P < 0.05) for the control group than for the treated group (67% versus 88%). In contrast to hides, the bacterial levels were lower (P < 0.05) on the treated (3.5 and 1.4 log CFU/100 cm2 for APC and EBC) than the control (5.5 and 3.2 log CFU/100 cm2 for APC and EBC) preevisceration carcasses. Prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 was lower (P > 0.05) on treated than on control preevisceration carcasses (1% versus 50%). These data indicate that chemical dehairing of cattle hides is an effective intervention to reduce the incidence of hide-to-carcass contamination with pathogens. The data also imply that any effective hide intervention process incorporated into beef processing procedures would significantly reduce carcass contamination by E. coli O157:H7.

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