The spread of microbial contamination on the hides of beef was investigated at two stages in the meat chain: (i) in a simulated livestock market (“the market”) using 33 animals, and (ii) in the unloading-to-skinning area of a commercial abattoir using 18 animals. At both stages, harmless bacterial markers (nalidixic acid–resistant Escherichia coli K-12; rifampicin- and nalidixic acid–resistant Pseudomonas fluorescens; and a tetracycline-resistant E. coli) were inoculated on the hides of a small number of selected animals, and their transfer to other animals and the environment was examined. At the market, the initial prevalence of animals positive for the hide markers (9.1% in each phase) introduced in the presale pen, sale ring, and postsale pen changed to 39.4, 15.1, and 54.5%, respectively, by the end of the market process. In addition, widespread contamination of the market environment with the hide markers was observed. At the abattoir, the initial prevalence of animals positive for the hide marker (11.1%) inoculated at unloading increased to 100% (hide before skinning) and 88.8% (skinned carcass). In addition, another marker inoculated on environmental surfaces in lairage pens, races, and stunning box was detected on 83.3% (hide before skinning) and 88.8% (skinned carcass). These results, although obtained with a relatively small number of animals, demonstrate that both the livestock market process and the unloading-to-skinning process at abattoirs can facilitate the extensive spread of microbial contamination on hides not just within, but also between, batches of animals.

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