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A chemical hide wash is one of the best ways for meat processors to reduce the risk of E. coli contamination. Click the image for more information about it.

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Meat Safety: It All Works Out in the Wash

By Laura McGinnis
July 1, 2008

When it comes to the safety of the U.S. beef supply, everything works out in the wash--the hide wash, that is.

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed a hide-washing tool that has significantly improved the safety of U.S. beef while saving the beef industry millions of dollars each year. An estimated 50 percent of U.S. feedlot-raised beef cattle undergo the washing treatment, which has reduced the national incidence of pathogenic Escherichia coli in ground beef samples by about 43 percent.

The tool was developed by ARS scientists at the Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, Neb. The research team included microbiologists Terry Arthur and Joseph Bosilevac, food technologists Steven Shackelford and Tommy Wheeler, and center director Mohammad Koohmaraie, formerly with ARS.

The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that E. coli O157:H7 causes nearly 73,000 illnesses every year in the United States. Following a 1993 outbreak, the USMARC scientists launched a massive investigation into the pathogen. Their work was the first to show that the principle source of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef is fecal contamination on cowhides.

Before, most intervention efforts had focused on eliminating the pathogenic bacteria from feces. The new findings led to a paradigm shift and the development of improved, hide-targeted intervention techniques to reduce and eliminate pathogenic E. coli O157:H7 and other dangerous microorganisms.

The hide-washing system works by using a high-pressure-water wash that removes excess organic matter from the cattle's hides, which are then sprayed with an antibacterial compound.

The scientists also have demonstrated that several chemical compounds can be effectively used for pathogen removal.

Read more about the research in the July 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.