World rabbit meat production is estimated to be over 1 million tons, and Spain is the third largest producer. Although rabbit meat is marketed and consumed worldwide, information on microbiological quality is very scarce. Here, we report indicator organisms, spoilage flora, sensory quality, and some physicochemical traits of 24 h postmortem chilled rabbit carcasses and prepackaged rabbit meat stored chilled in air for 0 to 3 days at the retail level. The mean total bacterial count (4.01 ± 0.48 log CFU/g) for carcasses dressed at a small abattoir by a manual process was significantly lower (P < 0.05) than that (4.96 ± 0.90 log CFU/g) for carcasses dressed at a large abattoir in automated slaughter lines. Both groups of carcasses had mean pH values of 5.98. The dominant contaminants on carcasses from the small abattoir were Pseudomonas, lactic acid bacteria, and yeasts. These microorganisms and Brochothrix thermosphacta were dominant on carcasses from the large abattoir. On prepacked hind legs (pH 6.26 ± 0.18) stored at −1 to + 1° C (supermarket 1), mean aerobic mesophilic count was 5.87 ± 1.03 log CFU/g, and the major microbial groups were Pseudomonas, yeasts, lactic acid bacteria, and B. thermosphacta. On prepacked whole carcasses (pH 6.37 ± 0.18) displayed at −1 to + 5° C (supermarket 2), mean aerobic mesophilic count was 6.60 ± 1.18 and the same microbial groups were dominant. Relative Escherichia coli incidence was supermarket 2 > large abattoir > supermarket 1 > small abattoir. Overall, low numbers of coliforms, Enterobacteriaceae, psychrotrophic clostridia, coagulase-positive staphylococci, and molds were found. Sensory scores, pH values, and L-lactic acid content differentiated fresh carcasses from retail samples. Data obtained suggest that the microflora of chilled rabbit meat are different from those found on the meat of other animals.

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