Prevalence of verotoxigenicEscherichia coliO157 (VTEC O157) and compliance with microbiological safety standards in bovine carcasses from an industrial beef slaughter plant

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The presence of Salmonella spp. and levels of Enterobacteriaceae and aerobic plate count were determined in 300 bovine carcasses randomly collected in an industrial cattle slaughterhouse in Catalonia (Spain) as part of a control programme to validate good slaughter practices according to Commission Regulation No 2073/2005. The verotoxigenic Escherichia coli O157 (VTEC O157), although not currently legislated, was also investigated in the same carcasses due to the importance of bovines as a reservoir for this micro-organism. Virulence genes (vtx1, vtx2 and eae), the presence of fliCH7 and antimicrobial susceptibility were studied in E. coli O157 isolates. Levels of Enterobacteriaceae and aerobic colonies and the presence of Salmonella were within the admissible range stipulated by current legislation. However, VTEC O157 was detected in 14·7% of carcasses. Among the VTEC O157 strains tested for antimicrobial susceptibility, 65% were multiresistant. Overall, the results of this study indicate that even with good manufacturing practices, contamination with VTEC O157 can occur and cattle meat can pose a risk to human health. These results confirm the need for a review of the appropriateness of introducing antimicrobial treatments in the processing of cattle carcasses in Europe.Significance and Impact of the StudyThis study describes the prevalence of verotoxigenic and multidrug-resistant E. coli O157 strains in bovine carcasses. These results suggest that despite the good manufacturing practices used in the slaughterhouse studied (the largest in Catalonia slaughtering over 81 000 cattle per year), the absence of verotoxigenic E. coli O157 in bovine carcasses cannot be guaranteed.

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