During September and October 2002, 3,662 prepackaged raw meat samples were collected to evaluate the extent and nature of microbiological contamination on external surfaces of the packaging, which could potentially cross-contaminate ready-to-eat foods during and after purchase. Salmonella was detected on two (<1%) samples of external packaging (both from raw chicken), and Campylobacter was detected on 41 (1.1%) samples of external packaging. The external packaging of game fowl exhibited the highest Campylobacter contamination (3.6%), followed by raw chicken (3.0%), lamb (1.6%), turkey (0.8%), pork (0.2%), and beef (0.1%); Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli accounted for 59% (24 of 41) and 24% (10 of 41) of the contaminating Campylobacter species, respectively. C. coli isolates from the external packaging were more multiresistant to antimicrobial drugs, including quinolones such as ciprofloxacin, than was C. jejuni. Escherichia coli (an indicator of fecal contamination) was isolated from the external packaging on 4% of the raw meat samples at levels of 40 to 105 CFU per swab. The external packaging of raw meats is a vehicle for potential cross-contamination by Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli in retail premises and consumers' homes. The external surface of heat-sealed packaging was less frequently contaminated with Campylobacter and E. coli compared with other types of packaging (e.g., overwrapping, bag, and tie tape) (P < 0.0001 to 0.01). In addition, external packaging of raw meats was contaminated less frequently with Campylobacter and E. coli when packaging was intact, packaging and display areas were visually clean, display temperatures were below 8°C, and hazard analysis systems were in place.

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