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Fecal Detection Technology Advances to Whole-Carcass Imaging System

By Linda McGraw
August 14, 2001

Dangerous bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 are being spotlighted because Agricultural Research Service researchers in partnership with eMerge Interactive, Inc., of Sebastian, Fla., have further developed and tested commercial designs of a fecal detection system capable of scanning an entire beef carcass.

The device can help the meatpacking industry supply safe food products to U.S. and foreign consumers. In a recent trial of an eMerge prototype at the Food and Agricultural Products Research and Technology Center at Oklahoma State University, the detection system revealed trace levels of contamination that were invisible to the human eye, prior to and after trimming. The prototype was also successful in evaluating fecal decontamination on carcasses subjected to levels of high- temperature steam from steam vacuums or steam cabinets. This is a common practice used for microbial intervention in the beef slaughter industry.

The fecal detection technology was developed and patented by ARS scientists Thomas A. Casey and Mark A. Rasmussen, in collaboration with Iowa State University chemist Jacob W. Petrich. It has been exclusively licensed by eMerge and is being further developed under a cooperative research and development agreement.

Research and development engineers at eMerge have developed this technology into new prototypes that scan an entire side of beef for fecal contamination. This improves the technology's practicality for the beef packing industry.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has a zero-tolerance standard for visible fecal contamination on livestock and poultry carcasses. Visual inspection and carcass cleaning are the standard tools for reducing the potential for E. coli and other bacterial contaminants in slaughterhouses across the country. But the human eye is not sensitive enough to identify all of the fecal contamination that can occur on carcasses, according to Casey, who works with Rasmussen at the ARS National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.