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Feedlots Rife with E. coli, Study Finds

Cattle hides are more likely to be contaminated with E. coli at the feedlot than at the slaughterhouse and transport and lairage do not increase the number or isolation rate of E. coli O157 according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by Australian researchers and published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, conflicts with previous studies that have found transport and lairage can lead to increased levels of E. coli on cattle hides.

cow-feed-lot-featured.jpgUnderstanding exactly where hides pick up E. coli in the beef production chain is important because the most common cause of carcass contamination is cross-contamination with hides during slaughter and processing.

Research regarding hide contamination is also critical in understanding how E. coli spreads between animals as there is often a greater prevalence of the pathogen on hides than in cattle feces.

“Understanding more about how carcasses and cattle become infected with E. coli O157 during production is vital for developing effective control measures,” notes the study, which found that 31 percent of cattle hides were contaminated at the feedlot and four percent were infected at the slaughterhouse.

A 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Agricultural Research Service, found a sharp increase in the frequency of E. coli O157 on hides from transport and lairage.

According to the USDA study, “Effective preharvest interventions to remove E. coli O157:H7 from the gut and hides of cattle may be negated by the time they entered the processing plant.”

Both the USDA and the Australian research team suggest further research is needed to better understand the mechanism of contamination during transport and lairage to help food safety regulators design better antimicrobial interventions.

© Food Safety News
  • There are so many things wrong with feed lots, this is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to increasing food-borne illnesses, what about how much more fatty feed lot cattle are, or all the antibiotics they’re injected with? And what about animal cruelty? We would be so much healthier if we could let go of our beef addiction and get back to grass-fed cattle.
    If you’re interested, I’ve also written about this same issue:
    http://thelivebettersite.com/why-you-should-eat-only-grass-fed-beef/

  • jmunsell

    The results of this recent study should be no surprise to anyone. Imagine a hundred or more cattle, sharing one feedlot pen, all defecating onto common ground, and then laying down in the feces of all their other feedlot mates. If only 10% of the animals, for example, carry the harmful 0157:H7 in their gut, this pathogenic bug may easily cross-contaminate all of the animal’s room mates. Imagine the condition of the feedlot floor during rain, or during the spring thaw when the animals are essentially wallowing around in pathogen soup. I am NOT criticizing feedlots, as I absolutely love well-marbled USDA Prime steaks. This fecal scenario is a necessary part of feedlot operations. It makes no sense to think that trucks carry a higher load of manure and pathogens, realizing that cattle are standing in the truck, not laying down, thus not picking up predecessors’ fecal droppings. And, animals typically spend a short time in the packing house corral prior to slaughter, minimizing their exposure to manure previously deposited. Therefore, what important conclusion may we make from this discussion? Answer: since E.coli and Salmonella are “ENTERIC” bacteria, by definition the bugs emanate from animals’ intestines and manure-covered hides. Therefore, when E.coli-adulterated meat is discovered in commerce, the contamination occurred because of sloppy kill floor dressing procedures, NOT from truck transport or by alleged problems at downstream processing plants which purchase all their meat from source slaughter providers. So, even if pre-harvest interventions reduce the E.coli load on live animals by, let’s say, 75%, the responsibility to prevent the remaining 25% from entering commerce still rests upon the shoulders of the slaughter establishment. We must remember that once the feedlot/livestock producers implement all the interventions known to mankind, that responsibility to prevent e.coli contamination of carcasses is still where our focus should be today, which is, the originating slaughter establishments. My concern is that studies of this kind may be designed to intentionally divert our focus away from the slaughter plants which piously proclaim they are doing all they can to prevent E.coli contamination, an effort which is ostensibly proven by their investment of millions of $ into interventions, which unfortunately have proven to be failing in grandiose fashion. If USDA implemented a huge increase in agency-conducted microbial testing at slaughter plants, especially the large plants with fast chain speeds, the agency would know in two weeks exactly WHERE the bugs are entering commerce. However, since the agency willingly acquiesced its previous authority over to the big packers when the deregulated HACCP Hoax was implemented in 1998, the agency has painted itself into a corner, and would face litigation if it attempted to (1) utilize a “Hands On” role in meat plants, or (2) to “Police the Industry”, or to (3) utilize “Command and Control”. All 3 of these actions were jettisoned by the agency upon HACCP’s advent. So, the agency is forced to divert our attention to other potential problem areas, such as transportation and lairage, hoping to pin the packer problems onto other entities. John Munsell

  • John Munsell

    The results of this recent study should be no surprise to anyone. Imagine a hundred or more cattle, sharing one feedlot pen, all defecating onto common ground, and then laying down in the feces of all their other feedlot mates. If only 10% of the animals, for example, carry the harmful 0157:H7 in their gut, this pathogenic bug may easily cross-contaminate all of the animal’s room mates. Imagine the condition of the feedlot floor during rain, or during the spring thaw when the animals are essentially wallowing around in pathogen soup. I am NOT criticizing feedlots, as I absolutely love well-marbled USDA Prime steaks. This fecal scenario is a necessary part of feedlot operations. It makes no sense to think that trucks carry a higher load of manure and pathogens, realizing that cattle are standing in the truck, not laying down, thus not picking up predecessors’ fecal droppings. And, animals typically spend a short time in the packing house corral prior to slaughter, minimizing their exposure to manure previously deposited. Therefore, what important conclusion may we make from this discussion? Answer: since E.coli and Salmonella are “ENTERIC” bacteria, by definition the bugs emanate from animals’ intestines and manure-covered hides. Therefore, when E.coli-adulterated meat is discovered in commerce, the contamination occurred because of sloppy kill floor dressing procedures, NOT from truck transport or by alleged problems at downstream processing plants which purchase all their meat from source slaughter providers. So, even if pre-harvest interventions reduce the E.coli load on live animals by, let’s say, 75%, the responsibility to prevent the remaining 25% from entering commerce still rests upon the shoulders of the slaughter establishment. We must remember that once the feedlot/livestock producers implement all the interventions known to mankind, that responsibility to prevent e.coli contamination of carcasses is still where our focus should be today, which is, the originating slaughter establishments. My concern is that studies of this kind may be designed to intentionally divert our focus away from the slaughter plants which piously proclaim they are doing all they can to prevent E.coli contamination, an effort which is ostensibly proven by their investment of millions of $ into interventions, which unfortunately have proven to be failing in grandiose fashion. If USDA implemented a huge increase in agency-conducted microbial testing at slaughter plants, especially the large plants with fast chain speeds, the agency would know in two weeks exactly WHERE the bugs are entering commerce. However, since the agency willingly acquiesced its previous authority over to the big packers when the deregulated HACCP Hoax was implemented in 1998, the agency has painted itself into a corner, and would face litigation if it attempted to (1) utilize a “Hands On” role in meat plants, or (2) to “Police the Industry”, or to (3) utilize “Command and Control”. All 3 of these actions were jettisoned by the agency upon HACCP’s advent. So, the agency is forced to divert our attention to other potential problem areas, such as transportation and lairage, hoping to pin the packer problems onto other entities. John Munsell

  • chandler

    what do you guys think about feedlots