31 October 1997

Its better to be clean,

than dirty and rejected

The Meat Hygiene Services campaign against dirty stock

this winter will require all parties from farm to abattoir to

examine what can be done to reduce the likelihood of

rejection. John Burns canvasses opinion on how to proceed

BACTERIA potentially harmful to man live in the gut of cattle and sheep and are passed out in the dung.

If carcasses become contaminated by direct contact with dirty hides or skins, or by splashes or dust from them, or dressers knives which have cut through dung caked on the skin, the bacteria may be transferred to other meats at a later stage in processing or in a shop. Normal cooking would destroy them.

But if contaminated fresh meat and cooked meats to be eaten without further heat treatment are both handled by the same hands or utensils, or on the same work surface, the bacteria can end up being eaten with the cold meat. That is what happened in the E Coli 0157 tragedy in Scotland. So every precaution is being taken to avoid contamination of the carcasses in the first place.

Meat Hygiene Service inspectors have stated categorically that if cattle and sheep are not clean and dry they will not allow them to be killed other than in exceptional circumstances. That statement will stand regardless of weather, season or the price of straw, they say.

The MHS is also promising that from next January the routine hygiene assessment scores for each abattoir will be published.

The cleanliness of animals being presented for inspection affects those scores. Abattoirs with consistently moderate scores are unlikely to stay in business for long.

This situation is one of the rare ones when everyone in the chain from farm to retailer can genuinely say: "We are all in this together and we must all play our part".

MHS has made it quite clear what is required and published guidance notes with pictures. This booklet Clean Livestock Policy was published in August this year and is available from the Meat Hygiene Service (see panel opposite).

MLC brought together representatives of all sectors in August to agree on practical measures to ensure clean animals arrive at the abattoir. The view being taken is it can be done, although no one denies that more care, more planning, and probably more cost will be involved. Guidance notes on clean livestock are also available from MLC.

In some circumstances, such as where animal welfare has to be taken into account, MHS will allow animals to be killed which do not meet the normal hygiene specifications. But the killing line throughput will be reduced drastically to ensure extra precautions can be taken to avoid contamination of the carcasses. So killing and dressing costs increase and the supplier of the stock suffers a price penalty one way or another.

Cattle arriving clean at abattoirs must then be kept in suitable lairage.

Fit for slaughter? Animals arriving clean get the thumbs-up from vet Alison Small – working for the MHS at Southern Counties Fresh Foods.

Belly out sheep to keep them clean – taking off a 10cm strip from breastbone to crutch (left). When all belly wool is sheared off (right), skin value is reduced, according to abattoir HMBennett.

What is acceptable (left) and whats not. The dirty animal will be rejected by the abattoir.

advice to farmers

&#8226 Avoid muddy fields if possible.

&#8226 Avoid scouring by attention to diet and worm control.

&#8226 Dagg sheep, shear the belly line before putting them on roots or before sending for slaughter.

&#8226 Clip cattle at housing or before sending for slaughter.

&#8226 Provide enough space and ventilation as well as plenty of dry straw bedding for housed stock.

&#8226 Avoid deep mud or dung around the feed and water troughs indoors or in the fields.

TO MINIMISE SOILING

&#8226 Put them on dry fodder – with access to water – 24 to 48 hours before they are due to be loaded.

&#8226 Yard them on plenty of straw for at least 12 hours to empty out before loading.

&#8226 Wet animals will dry out at least partially if housed on plenty of dry straw for 12 hours or more before loading.

&#8226 Use enough straw in the lorry, preferably short-chopped because it is easier to clean out than long straw, especially from multi-deck lorries. Do not use sand, sawdust or woodshavings. These cause problems on the dressing line at the abattoir.

&#8226 Preferably keep them dry while loading. Wet animals are more likely to become seriously contaminated than dry ones.

WHAT CAN BE DONE

&#8226 Avoid loading stock straight out of fields.

&#8226 Provide dry food 24-48 hours before loading.

&#8226 Allow stock time to empty out before loading.

&#8226 Do not bed with sand, sawdust or woodshavings.