A study was undertaken to examine hygienic control of the slaughter and dressing process for beef cattle at Australian export processing establishments. Samples were collected from two points during the process: immediately after hide removal and at the completion of dressing before the commencement of chilling. Hindquarter (HQ) and forequarter (FQ) samples were collected from 24 establishments, half of which (n=12) employed some form of microbial intervention (in addition to trimming). The overall contamination level on carcass sides was low and was reduced between hide-removal and entering the chiller. The concentration and prevalence of indicator bacteria were higher on samples from HQ than on FQ. Application of an intervention, such as hot water, in addition to trimming resulted in a greater reduction in the concentration and prevalence of indicator bacteria than trimming alone, although the level of E. coli and coliform bacteria on all samples was too low to allow meaningful comparisons to be made. Salmonellae were isolated from 2.09% and 0.56% of post-hide removal and pre-chill samples, respectively. Application of an intervention in addition to trimming did not result in a significant reduction (p=0.4) of Salmonella prevalence on pre-chill carcasses. Low levels of bacteria were found on carcasses after hide removal. This, combined with small reductions as a result of trimming and sometimes other interventions, resulted in carcasses with very low levels of bacterial contamination . If performance metrics were to be applied to the slaughter and dressing process, a measure of the expected contamination at the end of the process would provide a more unequivocal measure of the process than either contamination on the carcass after hide removal or any reduction achieved as a result of the dressing process.
ABSTRACT Salmonella contamination of ground beef has been viewed as originating from the surface of carcasses. Recent studies have identified lymph nodes as a potential source of Salmonella contamination because these tissues play an active role in containment of pathogens in the live animal and because some lymph nodes are unavoidably present in manufacturing beef trimmings or primal cuts that may be incorporated into ground beef. A survey was conducted of the microbiological status of lymph nodes from Australian cattle at the time of slaughter to determine the prevalence of microbiological contamination. Sets of lymph nodes ( n = 197), consisting of the superficial cervical (prescapular), prepectoral, axillary, presternal, popliteal, ischiatic, subiliac (precrural), coxalis, and iliofemoralis (deep inguinal), were collected from five geographically separated Australian abattoirs over a period of 14 months. Samples were tested for the presence of Salmonella spp. and Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli by BAX PCR assay. Aerobic plate count, E. coli, and coliforms were enumerated with a lower limit of detection of 80 CFU per node. The observed prevalence of Salmonella within peripheral lymph nodes was 0.48% (7 of 1,464). Two of the seven lymph nodes in which Salmonella organisms were detected came from the same animal. Grass-fed, grain-fed, and cull dairy cattle were all found to have detectable Salmonella in lymph nodes. All Salmonella detections occurred during cooler months of the year. No Shiga toxin–producing E. coli were detected. Aerobic microorganisms were detected above the limit of quantification in 3.2% of nodes (median count 2.24 log per node), and E. coli was detected in 0.8% of nodes (median count 3.05 log per node). The low prevalence of Salmonella and low concentration of aerobic microorganisms in Salmonella -positive lymph nodes of Australian cattle at the time of slaughter suggest that the likelihood of lymph nodes contributing significantly to the presence of Salmonella in ground beef is low.