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Research Sheds New Light on Deadly Bacteria / June 5, 2000 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Research Sheds New Light on Deadly Bacteria

By Linda McGraw
June 5, 2000

A new way to detect microbes that contaminate fresh meat could help the industry meet new food safety regulations designed to control deadly bacteria, such as E. coli 0157:H7. Agricultural Research Service and Iowa State University researchers received a patent on the technology in the summer of 1999.

A prototype designed by the researchers was used in a recent test at a large Midwestern beef packing plant. The instrument uses specific wavelengths or colors of light to illuminate the carcass. Collected light returned from the carcass is electronically analyzed to determine if fecal matter is present. If fecal matter is detected, the carcass can undergo further sanitation.

Visual inspection and carcass cleaning are the standard tools for reducing the potential for E. coli and other bacterial contaminants in meat slaughterhouses across the country. But the human eye is not sensitive enough to identify all of the fecal contamination that can be on carcasses, according to ARS microbiologist Mark A. Rasmussen at the National Animal Disease Center (NADC) in Ames, Iowa.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has a zero tolerance standard for fecal contamination on livestock and poultry carcasses. The fecal detection system can help livestock and poultry slaughterhouses meet these federal standards.

Rasmussen, ARS microbiologist Thomas A. Casey, and Iowa State University chemist Jacob W. Petrich invented the prototype, which instantly detects minute amounts of fecal matter on carcasses.

The work to commercialize the technology is being conducted under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with ISU and eMerge Vision Systems, Inc., now eMerge Interactive, Inc. of Sebastian, Fla. Optical and electronic engineers at eMerge are working with the ARS and ISU scientists to develop both large-cut and whole carcass detection systems.

Scientific contact: Mark A. Rasmussen, ARS National Animal Disease Center, P.O. Box 70, Ames, IA, 50010, phone (515) 663-7350, fax (515) 663-7458, rasmuss@nadc.ars.usda.gov, or Thomas A. Casey, phone (515) 663-7726, tcasey@nadc.ars.usda.gov.

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