Foodborne disease (FBD) is a global public health concern, and foods from animal sources have been associated with outbreaks of food-related illness. In this study, animal carcasses from the two abattoirs (HT1 and HT2) in the formal meat sector (FMS) and slaughter points in the informal meat sector (INMS) were examined at two stages of slaughter (before washing and after washing) for aerobic colony counts (ACC) and total viable count (TCC), as well as Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus count. At each stage, carcasses were sampled by swabbing at the neck, brisket, flank, and rump. ACC for beef, mutton, and pork carcasses at HT1 and HT2 before washing were between 2.5⁻5.8, 2.2⁻4.7, and 2.7⁻3.7 mean log CFU/cm², respectively, and TCC count before washing was highest on the neck of cattle (6.3 ± 2.4) and after washing was highest on the perineal of sheep (5.7 ± 6.9). In the INMS, TCC count was highest on the brisket (6.9 ± 3.2) and in the neck (5.5 ± 2.4). Higher ACC values of 6.2⁻6.7 mean log CFU/cm² were obtained in the INMS. The highest count for E. coli (4.2 mean log CFU/cm²) after washing was in the neck, while the highest count for S. aureus (4.0 mean log CFU/cm²) was in the flank. All bacteria count in the INMS exceeded acceptable limits, and washing did not significantly reduce microbial load in meat in the FMS and INMS. Bacteria count in the FMS and INMS exceeded acceptable standards. However, meat processed in the INMS poses a more significant risk of FBD to consumers.
Keywords: Escherichia coli; South Africa; abattoir; food safety; meat.