The effect of prechill fecal contamination on numbers of bacteria on immersion-chilled carcasses was tested in each of three replicate trials. For each trial, 16 eviscerated broiler carcasses were split into 32 halves and assigned to one of two groups. Cecal contents (0.1 g inoculated with Campylobacter and nalidixic acid–resistant Salmonella) were applied to each of eight halves in one group (direct contamination) that were placed into one paddle chiller (contaminated), whereas the other paired halves were placed into another chiller (control). From the second group of eight split birds, one of each paired half was placed in the contaminated chiller (to determine cross-contamination) and the other half was placed in the control chiller. Postchill carcass halves were sampled by a 1-min rinse in sterile water, which was collected and cultured. Bacterial counts were reported as log CFU per milliliter of rinsate. There were no significant statistical differences (paired t test, P < 0.05) from direct contamination for coliforms (mean 3.0 log CFU) and Escherichia coli (mean 2.7 log CFU), although Campylobacter numbers significantly increased from control values because of direct contamination (1.5 versus 2.1 log CFU), and the incidence increased from 79 to 100%. There was no significant effect of cross-contamination on coliform (mean 2.9 log CFU) or E. coli (mean 2.6 log CFU) numbers. Nevertheless, Campylobacter levels were significantly higher after exposure to cross-contamination (1.6 versus 2.0 log CFU), and the incidence of this bacterium increased from 75 to 100%. Salmonella-positive halves increased from 0 to 42% postchill because of direct contamination and from 0 to 25% as a result of cross-contamination after chilling. Water samples and surface swabs taken postchill from the contaminated chiller were higher for Campylobacter than those taken from the control chiller. Immersion chilling equilibrated bacterial numbers between contaminated and control halves subjected to either direct contamination or cross-contamination for coliforms and E. coli. Campylobacter numbers, Campylobacter incidence, and Salmonella incidence increased because of both direct contamination and cross-contamination in the chiller. Postchill E. coli numbers did not indicate which carcass halves were contaminated with feces before chilling.

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