21 March 1997

Meat processing needs

to be above criticism

ABATTOIR processors must go beyond basic government requirements for hygiene and humaneness to address consumer concerns.

Speaking on a UK tour of abattoir/processors which supply Tesco, the companys meat director, Andrew Batty, said the whole process of meat production from lairage to meat packing must be above criticism.

Tests for E coli and other bacteria should be carried out frequently from the time animals arrive in lairage to the time when meat is packed," said Mr Batty.

"The first checks should be made when cattle enter lairage with any dirty cattle returned to the owner or cleaned at the plant if facilities exist.

"Initial tests for E coli should also be made at this time, with faecal samples tested at on-site microbiology laboratories," he said.

Tescos technical director, Arthur Haddrell, explained that the hide is the main source for E coli infection and its careful removal is central to avoiding carcass contamination.

"Two knives should always be used to remove the hide. One to make the initial incision and a second to trim the hide back from the carcass. Great care is then needed as the hide is turned back on itself and removed," said Mr Haddrell.

"The four units supplying Tesco are as clean as hospitals and every 24 hours each part of the production line is vacated and coated with a foam to prevent any bacterial colonisation.

"To back this up swabs are taken at various points throughout the sites and tested in the laboratory for the presence of bacteria."n

Staff are also randomly spot checked with hand swabs taken to check they are washing them thoroughly.

At Foyle Meats in Northern Ireland they have been sampling for E coli 0157 since 1993 without a positive result. While 800 E coli 0157 tests have been carried out at St Merryn Meats, Cornwall, in the past 12 months, again with no positive results.

"For the future we are considering carcass pasteurisation, a process developed in the US where the carcass is treated with steam at very high temperatures to eliminate bugs.

"But this discolours meat and fat. Other methods we have considered are lactic acid treating and uv treating, but the latter is illegal in the UK at the moment," explained Mr Haddrell.n