Zero-tolerance for faecal contamination of carcasses as a tool in the control of O157 VTEC infections

Int J Food Microbiol. 2001 May 21;66(1-2):13-20. doi: 10.1016/s0168-1605(00)00512-2.


The Dutch government, the meat producers organisation and the meat industry have recognised O157 VTEC as an important public health hazard, and agreed on the necessity to improve the hygiene in Dutch cattle- and calf-slaughtering establishments. This paper reports activities within a national action programme to achieve this objective, "Zero-tolerance for faecal contamination during slaughter of cattle and calves". The study included inspection of hygienic performances in slaughterhouses, and visual and microbiological (aerobic plate counts, Enterobacteriaceae counts and O157 VTEC presence/absence on visually clean cattle and calf carcasses) assessment of carcass cleanliness. Initial studies concluded that the hygienic performances in the Dutch cattle and calf slaughterhouses should be immediately improved. In 52% of the slaughterhouses inspected, carcasses were observed to be contaminated with hide, hair or faeces. Around 45% of the slaughterhouses had constructural deficiencies likely to lead to structural cross-contamination of carcasses, by direct carcass-carcass contact, or by indirect contacts with floors, walls or steps. In 39% of the slaughterhouses, cleaning and disinfection procedures were inadequate. Visual inspection of chilled carcasses found that in 11 of the 27 slaughterhouses visited, more than 10% of the carcasses were visibly contaminated. In 6 of the 27 slaughterhouses visited, more than 50% of the carcasses inspected were visibly contaminated. Microbiological analysis of visually clean carcasses noted contamination levels similar to those reported from other countries. O157 VTEC were not isolated during this study. Circulation of these findings lead to increased efforts by all parties to fulfil the requirements of the statutory "Zero-tolerance" programme. A follow-up study noted a significant decrease in the proportions of faecally contaminated carcasses, i.e., 7% of chilled carcasses were visibly contaminated with faeces, as opposed to 22% contamination during the initial study. The follow-up study also noted a greater awareness of the importance of good hygienic practices among slaughterhouse personnel and government meat inspectors.

MeSH terms

  • Abattoirs / standards*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Disinfection
  • Enterobacteriaceae / growth & development
  • Enterobacteriaceae / isolation & purification
  • Escherichia coli Infections / prevention & control*
  • Escherichia coli O157 / growth & development
  • Escherichia coli O157 / isolation & purification*
  • Feces / microbiology*
  • Food Inspection
  • Hygiene / standards*
  • Meat / microbiology*
  • Meat / standards
  • Quality Control