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Agricultural Research Service

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New Detector Spots Unseen Fecal Contamination on Meat

By Linda McGraw
March 17, 1998

A new way to detect unseen fecal contamination on fresh meat could help industry meet new food safety regulations designed to control disease-causing bacteria.

Feces are the major source of bacterial contamination in livestock and poultry slaughterhouses, according to Agricultural Research Service microbiologist Mark A. Rasmussen at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa.

After the 1993 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, USDA developed new sanitation requirements for slaughterhouses, including stiffer inspections for fecal contamination and tests for E. coli. According to ARS microbiologist Thomas A. Casey, these have not been easy tasks to accomplish using current methods.

Using fluorescent spectroscopy, the ARS researchers and Iowa State University chemist Jacob W. Petrich built a detector that illuminates unseen fecal contamination on meat. Petrich says the device is adaptable to any size packing plant. As a hand-held unit, similar to metal detectors used in airports, the instrument could alert meat packers to fecal contamination within seconds. The contaminated carcass could then be sanitized before the contamination spreads.

Meat packers now visually inspect carcasses for fecal contamination. With the new technology, this job will be easier, faster and more accurate.

The ARS/ISU research is timely because USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service is enforcing a zero tolerance standard for fecal contamination on livestock and poultry carcasses. The researchers are patenting their technology, and discussions are under way with industry cooperators on possible commercial development.

Scientific contacts: Mark A. Rasmussen, microbiologist, ARS-USDA, National Animal Disease Center, P.O. Box 70, Ames IA 50010, phone (515) 239-8350, fax (515) 239-8458, or Thomas A. Casey, microbiologist, ARS-USDA, National Animal Disease Center, P.O. Box 70, Ames IA 50010, phone (515) 239-8376, fax (515) 239-8458,

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