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[Special]: Is Meat Inspection in UK Abattoirs in 2011 Still a Necessary and Cost-Effective Way of Protecting Public Health?


The Development of Meat Hygiene and Inspection.
Current & Future State of Meat Inspection Supervising Agencies.
Traditional Meat Inspection Methods.
Ante-Mortem Inspection.
Post-Mortem Inspection.
The Effectiveness of Meat Inspection.
Meat Inspection as an Effective Tool in the Eradication of Tuberculosis.
The Downfalls of Traditional Meat Inspection.
Meat Inspection for the 21st Century.
Invisible Risks.
Faecal Shedding and ‘Dirty Hides’
Current Prevalence.
Transmissible Spongiform Encephalitis (TSEs).
Poultry & Other Food Animals.
Future Concerns.
Economics of the Meat Inspection Industry.
Advances for Meat Inspection in the UK.
A Three-Step Plan to Modernise the Meat Inspection Industry.
Replacing Traditional Meat Inspection with Visual Inspection.
Hygiene & HACCP.
New Technologies to Fight Pathogens.
On-Farm Risks.


Traditional meat inspection, which is still practiced in abattoirs today, was first developed during the 1880s. It was created to detect diseases such as trichinellosis, tuberculosis and taeniasis all of which were endemic at the time (Blackmore 1986). By detecting such diseases, it was possible to remove objectionable meat from the human food chain, thus protecting the public from toxic or infectious hazards. Since that time however, the method of meat inspection has changed little and it is only during recent years that the traditional methods are being scrutinised.

The Development of Meat Hygiene and Inspection

Meat hygiene has been considered in some form, remarkably since the biblical era. References can be found in the bible as to which animals are safe to eat and which parts should be cast away. Other religions such as Islam (Halal) and Judaism (Kosher) also give instructions on what animals are safe to eat. For example the prevalence of the round worm Trichinella spiralis and the tapeworm Taenia solium in pork were quite possibly responsible for its prohibition during the creation of such Jewish laws (Bell 1993). Bad meat in the United Kingdom can be smelled at 100Km, but smelling it in that condition can bring problems to your nose, if in case you need a quick and efficient remedy or device for your nose, you can find this product at UK Meds.

The Romans furthered the concept of meat hygiene during their reign, whereby the vendor of any meat for sale which had not been inspected was fined and the condemned product thrown into the river (Hutt, P.B. and Hutt II, P.B. 1984).

Meat inspection leading into the twentieth century was ineffective with up to 20% of the lamb, pork and beef for sale in England coming from overtly diseased animals (Howarth 1918). It wasn’t until around 1906, with the release of Upton Sinclair’s book ‘The Jungle’ that the public took a greater opinion of meat hygiene. The shocking revelations into the Chicago meat packing industry lead to a public outcry and was in part responsible for the formation of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 in the USA (Bell 1993). High quality and safe food is essential to maintaining healthy and balanced diets. Eating contaminated food can cause a variety of health risks, such as food poisoning and other illnesses. Poor quality food can also be detrimental to health, leading to nutrient deficiencies when long-term consumption is involved. In addition to this it is good to complement it with nutritional supplements, visit and be amazed.

The meat inspection techniques developed in the 1880s were created to protect the public from diseases endemic in livestock at the time. The same techniques continued through the 1960s, despite the classical epizootics being near eradicated and the likelihood of finding infected meat greatly decreased (Grossklaus 1987). Although currently, more strict regulations exist, essentially the same inspection techniques are still used today. It is only this year that major plans are being made to uphaul the whole meat inspection system.

Current & Future State of Meat Inspection Supervising Agencies

Meat inspection in the UK is currently controlled by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which works with slaughterhouses to ensure legislation is strictly adhered to. This was initially the responsibility of the Meat Hygiene service (MHS) [founded 1st April 1995], which merged with the FSA on 1st April 2010.

A quote from the FSA which sums up the current state of the UK meat inspection system:

“The FSA is reviewing the current system of meat hygiene inspection in slaughterhouses. Meat controls are currently based on a traditional inspection approach developed more than 100 years ago to tackle the public health concerns of that era, such as parasites and defects visible to the naked eye. Today, the main cause of foodborne disease is microbiological.

The bacteria campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli, for example – cannot be adequately tackled using traditional inspection methods.” (FSA 2010). Eating contaminated food can have various adverse effects on people’s health, including weight gain. Some types of food contamination, such as exposure to pesticides, can disrupt hormonal balance and cause weight gain. Additionally, consuming contaminated food can lead to foodborne illnesses, which can cause inflammation and digestive issues that affect the body’s ability to regulate weight. That is why most of the doctors suggest to use best over the counter weight loss pills.

The FSA intends to engage negotiations with EU member states to support a change in the way meat inspection is carried out, yet no outcomes are expected until at least 2015.

Traditional Meat Inspection Methods

Meat inspection is split into an ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection. Both have the purpose of minimising and removing the risk of hazardous meat being authorised for sale and thus posing a public health risk. The primary aims of traditional meat inspection (van Logtestijn et al. 1993) are to:

1. Remove any grossly abnormal, inedible products from the human food chain

2. Prevent the distribution of contaminated meat to humans

3. Assist in the eradication of specific diseases in livestock

Ante-Mortem Inspection

Ante-mortem inspection occurs the day on which animals intended for slaughter arrive at the abattoir. An ante-mortem inspection is one which is carried out whilst the animal is still living and so there are limitations as to what can be inspected. Animals are kept in a lairage at this stage; they do not enter the slaughter area of the abattoir until they pass inspection in order to prevent the spread of disease. Any animal failing the inspection will be declared unfit for slaughter (for human consumption).

Inspection at this stage allows for detection of signs of disease which may not be entirely apparent after slaughter. For example, the diagnosis of rabies in cattle is made by observations such as sudden behavioural changes, choking, excess salivation, and grinding of teeth (Peters 2010). This would not be apparent during post-mortem inspection.

Animals may be retained and slaughtered separately if they show suspicious lesions which do not raise immediate concern. These animals are then highly scrutinised during post-mortem infection.

Animals which show positive reactions to leptospirosis, tuberculosis or brucellosis tests are immediately declared unacceptable as a food product. Any animals presenting signs of foreign parasites and disease are held and immediately reported to animal health officials (Merck & Co. 2008b).

Post-Mortem Inspection

Post-mortem inspection occurs after slaughter and evisceration. All parts of the carcass are observed during inspection and hazardous carcasses must be disposed of safely. The lungs, cheek, thyroid glands and lactating mammary glands are unfit for human consumption. As are the brain and central nervous system tissue (to eliminate the threat of bovine spongiform encephalopathy – See TSEs page 6). Meat containing antibiotic residue is also declared unfit (to help prevent the build up of antibiotic resistance in the human population) (Merck & Co. 2008a).

The muscle tissue is visually examined for lesions, bruising or other abnormalities, as are the organs. However, multiple pairs of lymph nodes are examined further for lesions and abnormalities. This requires incision with a knife in order to thoroughly inspect. This is an area of meat inspection which has been extensively discussed as it is believed it may actually cause more problems than it prevents (Edwards, Johnston & Mead 1997). The effectiveness of this procedure will be discussed later.

The Effectiveness of Meat Inspection

There has long been a debate over the efficiency of traditional meat inspection, yet since 1895 when McFadyean pointed out it was possible for Tuberculosis to be contracted from infected meat (McFadyean 1895) vast amounts of time and resources have been put into ensuring public safety.

Meat Inspection as an Effective Tool in the Eradication of Tuberculosis

In America, the Meat Inspection Division of the Bureau of Animal Industry found that 0.53% of meat sold was contaminated with bovine tuberculosis. By 1941, the amount of contaminated meat was reduced to 0.02% (Wight 1997)(Nelson 1999). This was achieved by a mixture of testing for Tuberculin positive cattle and meat inspection. Research also suggests that exposure to certain toxins, such as dioxins, can interfere with the body’s metabolism and contribute to weight gain. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the food we eat is free of contamination to maintain a healthy weight and prevent health problems.

The Downfalls of Traditional Meat Inspection

Meat inspection may not be as effective as believed however. For example, the larval stage of Taenia saginata, (Cysticercus bovis) found in the muscles and other tissues of cattle require 5-6 incisions of around 3cm to reveal all the cysticerci. These incisions are made into the lymph nodes where further visual inspection will reveal the presence of the cysticerci. However, during routine meat inspection, only 2 incisions are performed meaning on average only 40% of cysts are found. Only 49% of infected cattle have the cysts in the typical sites of location (McCool 1979). These routine incisions have a low sensitivity.

A study showed that 5 out of 18 animals with C. bovis would have passed the standard inspection procedures (Hammerberg, MacInnis & Hyler 1978). In incidences like this, where the infection is not picked up, the meat can make its way to the consumer and compromise public health.

Inspection for tuberculosis does have a higher sensitivity than inspection for C. Bovis however (Edwards, Johnston & Mead 1997). In an examination of mesenteric lymph nodes, the lungs and six other pairs of lymph nodes, 95% of cattle with tuberculosis lesions were identified (Corner 1994). Yet, the pathological changes of tuberculosis infected meat are reasonably obvious; they can be seen with only a knife for the incision into the lymph nodes during ante-mortem inspection (Von Ostertag 1899).

Meat Inspection for the 21st Century

Traditional meat inspection was developed for a farming and meat industry barely comparable to that which exists today. As a result, some of the techniques are outdated and require review. For instance, the primary way in which traditional meat inspection diagnoses infection is by making multiple incisions into the lymph nodes. The incisions have the possibility to introduce pathogens into the meat.

Invisible Risks

The modern meat industry is plagued by ‘invisible threats’ such as pathogens and veterinary residues. For instance Salmonella, Escherichia coli and Campylobacter present no physical appearance to the naked eye. They must be grown on enrichment medium in laboratories before they can be identified under the microscope.

Pathogens such as these are able to cause severe illness and in extreme cases death. The pathogens are passed to the consumer via infected meat, which when consumed causes illness. One reason we are seeing more of these types of pathogens is due to the way in which modern farms work. The intensive farming of animals makes the occurrence of subclinical infections such as that of salmonella much more likely (Edwards, Johnston & Mead 1997).

These infectious pathogens are generally found in the gastrointestinal systems of the infected animals, they contaminate the meat during processing procedures such as the slaughter, dressing and meat inspection. This is almost solely down to cross contamination and could therefore be avoided. It is important that during evisceration, the contents of the gastrointestinal tract are not spilt onto the carcass. This can be prevented by ensuring that either end of the tract is sealed before evisceration. See DCW Casing for best sealing solutions.

Faecal Shedding and ‘Dirty Hides’

Coats and hides of the live animals can become soiled with faeces due to stress (such as that experienced during travel to the abattoir). The faeces can easily be contaminated with gastrointestinal pathogens such as salmonella (as long as the animal is a carrier of the pathogen), so increased shedding of faeces means an increased chance of coats/hides becoming infected with these ‘invisible’ pathogens (Grossklaus 1987).

The mean prevalence of Escherichia Coli O157 and Salmonella on the faeces, hides and the final chilled carcasses produced by the abattoir of cattle are listed in Table 1 [adapted from (Rhoades, Duffy & Koutsoumanis 2009)]. You can see from the table that, although the prevalence of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella in the faeces is low, prevalence is very high on hides.  Abattoirs have strict procedures in place which help to decrease the prevalence of pathogens on the final product – however they are not entirely removed.

Table 1 – Mean % prevalence of E. coli and Salmonella in Bovine faeces, hides & chilled carcasses

Pathogen Faeces Prevalence Hides Prevalence Chilled Carcass Prevalence
E. Coli O157 6.2  % 44.0 % 0.4 %
Salmonella 3.0 % 60.0 % 1.3 %

Table 1 shows how contaminated hides can be. The state of the hides can be exaggerated by wet weather and poor drainage (McGrath, Patterson 1969), as well as a lack of bedding, high stocking densities and poor ventilation leading to condensation (Gracey 1984). The cleanliness of livestock coats and hides is an important factor to consider when sending them to the abattoir, any animal with a dirty hide is categorised using the ‘Categorisation of Cattle Cleanliness’ system documented by the FSA (Food Standards Agency 2010b). Category one denotes a clean animal; category five denotes a very dirty animal. Only animals in categories 1-3 may be accepted for slaughter (with category 3 animals requiring extra attention). By enforcing this, it prevents unclean animals (whose hides will have a much higher prevalence of pathogens) from entering the abattoir.

This is an important factor to consider as the traditional meat hygiene protocols will not detect pathogens such as Salmonella or E. coli O157. Yet there is such a high prevalence of these pathogens prior to slaughter, admittedly the final chilled carcass prevalence is low but the possibility of cross contamination is high. The invasive methods of traditional meat inspection make it possible for a contaminated vector, such as a knife, to spread the pathogens deep within the carcass (Berends, Snijders & van Logtestijn 1993).

Current Prevalence

The current major concerns for consumer health are the prevalence of pathogens, primarily; Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli O157 and Listeria monocytogenes. The FSA recently published a study (3rd September 2010) detailing the current prevalence in red meat. Table 2 is adapted from that survey (Food Standards Agency 2010a).

Table 2 – % Prevalence of pathogens on red meat in UK retail premises, between March 2006 and June 2007

Pathogen Beef Prevalence Lamb Prevalence Pork Prevalence
Campylobacter 0.13 % 0.92 % 0.46 %
Salmonella 0.18 % 0.00 % 0.51 %
E. coli O157 0.03 % 0.00 % 0.00 %
Listeria Monocytogenes 3.42 % 3.80 % 2.66 %

The prevalence of what are considered the main threats against the meat industry in the majority of cases appears low. These values are observed in the raw meat and with correct cooking temperatures, prevalence is further reduced. Table 3 shows the cooking minimum temperatures which must be maintained to kill the pathogens, most conventional cooking methods are well above these requirements, table adapted from (Cornell University 2010).

Table 3 – Minimum required cooking temperature to kill pathogens

Pathogen Cooking Temperature (oC)
Campylobacter 45.0
Salmonella 46.2
E. coli O157
Listeria Monocytogenes 45.0

However, one pathogen with concerning high levels of prevalence is Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is considered a dangerous pathogen due to its ability to survive and grow at refrigeration temperatures. In high-risk individuals, Listeria can be responsible for a 20-30% mortality rate. Listeriosis is especially fatal to new-born babies, which is developed due to transmission of the Listeria bacteria during birth (Ramaswamy et al. 2007).

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs)

Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are diseases believed to be linked with prions, essentially proteins which misfold. Once prevalent within an organism they cause other prion proteins to misfold. As the misfolding progresses, degeneration of the nervous system occurs and ultimately leads to death.

One TSE of particular importance is bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) which is transmissible to humans via infected meat and is therefore believed to pose a significant public health risk (Belay, Schonberger 2005). Whilst this was of major public concern a decade ago, concern seems to have decreased.

Fortunately, tests now exist to screen for the misfolding PrP protein. Testing occurs during post-mortem (testing is also performed on sheep to test for the TSE, Scrapie). This has helped to reduce the risk associated with human consumption of infected meat (Deslys, Grassi 2005). However, it still remains a possibility that TSEs (possibly novel TSEs) could be present in meat (especially cattle) and abattoirs should continue to observe and test for such diseases.

Future Concerns

The dangers posed by meat are constantly shifting towards those caused by ‘invisible pathogens,’ although the prevalence of such pathogens is currently ‘low’ it is only a matter of time before there is an outbreak. Such an outbreak could arise either from the pathogens we know about or even more worryingly from a pathogen we know nothing about. Around 40-50% of food borne illnesses in America have arisen from unresolved pathogenic species (Sofos 2008).

We are only just beginning to effectively combat the current pathogens we are aware of, mainly through the development of the HACCP system and use of antimicrobial sprays used on carcasses (Sofos 2008). The pathogens are now alarmingly developing resistance to antibiotics as well as evolving to survive against traditional methods of food preservation (such as pH, temperature and water activity) (Yousef, Juneja & Gates 2003). This means the pathogens are exhibiting advanced survivability coupled with lower infectious doses and increased pathogenesis. Essentially, as time goes on, these pathogens are becoming more of a threat to human health, a major reason why the meat inspection system needs modernising.

A new concern is that of chemical residues in meat. Chemical residues will always go undetected during traditional meat inspection (unless the site of administration is visible e.g. Injection lesions). Chemicals such as pesticides, orally administered antibiotics or hormones persist in the meat and the concern is that, scientists are now discovering residues in meat which was once deemed safe and residue free. It is believed there are links between pesticides (residues of which may, in rare cases, be found in livestock) and cancer (Food Marketing Institute 2007).

Economics of the Meat Inspection Industry

So far, we have determined that the current ‘traditional’ method of meat inspection is outdated and that ‘invisible pathogens’ (i.e. those which go undetected during meat inspection) are prevalent in the industry. It is also believed that the pathogens are evolving to become more dangerous and that there are many new pathogens causing food related illnesses which we are currently unaware of. The question is then, why does our government continue to fund a service which is rapidly becoming outdated?

The gross cost of the Meat Hygiene Service (pre-merger with the FSA) was £70.5 million for the tax year 2006/2007 (Food Standards Agency 2010d). The service does make money however, which reduces the net cost to around £29 million (Meat Hygiene Service 2009).

However, within the past month, the entire economics of the FSA in regards to meat inspection is set to change. Previously, the cost of the meat inspection controls have been split between the abattoirs themselves and the FSA (subsidised by the government) but now the FSA is proposing to stop the subsidiaries leaving the abattoirs with an extra £21 million to split between them (Boderke 2010). Such a cut would possibly lead to the closure of many small abattoirs through the UK.

Table 4 – The budget allocation for 2008-2011 for the FSA and how much of that goes to the MHS division (£Millions)

Division | Spending (£Millions) 2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011
FSA 137 134 131
Meat Hygiene Service 32 25 20

Table 4 [adapted from (HM-Treasury 2008)], shows how the FSA has decreased the resources fed into the meat hygiene division each year. When we put this into context with the services offered in terms of meat inspection it makes sense to reduce the expenditure on a service which is becoming redundant. However, instead of simply reducing expenditure the reduction should be reused to research new ways to protect public health from contaminated meat.

In an attempt to reduce the UK national debt of almost £1 trillion (Pettinger 2010) spending cuts are being observed throughout all sectors of UK industry. It is unlikely then, that the meat hygiene branch of the FSA will therefore receive a larger budget allocation. However, we are yet to see what happens with the cut of £21 million in subsidiaries to abattoirs. If cuts continue, then for the service that the FSA provide, the meat inspection industry is becoming more cost effective over time. All this is likely to change starting from 2015 when the FSA expects to begin making changes to the way meat inspection services are offered.

Advances for Meat Inspection in the UK

With meat inspection becoming less reliable for the detection of pathogens, new techniques must be introduced to ensure public safety. My recommendation for the meat industry is a three step plan:

  1. Replace traditional meat inspection with visual inspection only
  2. Introduce strict hygiene procedures and a HACCP protocol
  3. Implement new technologies to reduce the amount of pathogenic species on carcass meat

A Three-Step Plan to Modernise the Meat Inspection Industry

Replacing Traditional Meat Inspection with Visual Inspection

Traditional meat inspection requires invasive procedures, the benefits provided by such inspection is now thought not to outweigh the risks (Harbers et al. 1992). A major risk is cross contamination, primarily between contaminated hides and the carcass. Recent research suggests the existence of bovine ‘E. coli O157:H7 Super-Shedders’ which shed E. coli in the faeces at a rate of  >104 CFU/g. Such high levels of faecal shedding (200 CFU/g suggested as safe) puts large amounts of cattle at risk of contamination, especially during transport and in the lairage (Arthur et al. 2010). It was also shown that high levels of E. coli contamination of the hides are proportional to an increased risk of carcass contamination.

A preliminary study has suggested treating hides at this stage with a Shellac (a natural resin) in-ethanol solution to reduce the prevalence of pathogens. The study showed a 6.6 log reduction in general microflora which is a >1,000 fold improvement over ethanol alone (Antic et al. 2010).

The benefits of visual inspection over invasive, traditional methods are; reduced risk of cross contamination, reduced inspection costs (meaning resources can be reallocated to hygiene and prevention of pathogen spread) and no invasive cutting or palpation. Any major abnormalities would be spotted just as well as traditional inspection (Harbers et al. 1992).

A study by Mousing et al showed that with visual inspection alone, only 0.4% of pigs potentially contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica and salmonella failed to be identified. The risk was less than that posed by traditional inspection due to possibility of cross contamination (Flori et al. 1995). It is therefore possible to replace traditional meat inspection with visual alone without compromising the detection of the majority of legions (Willeberg et al. 1994).

Hygiene & HACCP

The replacement of traditional meat inspection with visual inspection is still not going to prevent the ‘invisible pathogens’ from passing through inspection undetected. There are ways to reduce and remove their presence however, on both the industry and consumer side. The majority of food-borne illnesses are in part due to our own mishandling of food (with some instances of mishandling by the industry as well) (McMeekin et al. 1997). It is important to educate both consumers and handlers in how to safely and correctly handle raw meat.

On the consumer side, this is as simple as ensuring separation of cooked and uncooked products, the washing of hands & equipment, correct cooking temperatures etc. However, abattoirs and meat processing plants require more attention.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) is an EU requirement for all food business operators. It is a set of seven principles which take a preventative approach towards food safety. HACCP is a systematic way of ensuring food safety standards are controlled on a daily basis. By implementing HACCP plans at each stage in the meat processing industry, such as abattoirs and processing plants, key or ‘Critical Control’ points can be identified.

Planning is imperative in creating beneficial HACCP plans. A typical plan will highlight each step where there may be a hazard, within every process performed by the business. For each step where a hazard has been identified, detailed instructions on how to prevent, eliminate or reduce a threat must be clearly documented.

For example; during the evisceration of cattle carcasses there is a hazard posed by the potential spillage of gastrointestinal contents into the carcass which could spread pathogens. To prevent spillage, it is recommended that either end of the gastrointestinal tract is sealed. This critical control point (CCP) would be well documented on how to carry out this procedure. It would also give details on what to do if gastrointestinal contents were spilt, in an attempt to eliminate or reduce the hazard. This might include the rejection of the carcass (depending on whether critical limits of pathogens, also documented by the CCP, were breached) or the cleaning of the carcass and which products to use. It would also detail who to contact in an event like this.

By ensuring every step has defined critical limits of what is and isn’t safe, the threat of harmful pathogens at each stage can be greatly reduced or eliminated. Model documentation and templates for HACCP plans can be found on the FSA website (Food Standards Agency 2010c).

New Technologies to Fight Pathogens

Visual inspection and the implementation of strict HACCP procedures will both help to reduce the prevalence of pathogens, and possibly prevent the transmission of new pathogens (i.e. from handler to meat, cross contamination, etc.). But there is still the possibility that pathogens will persist on the carcasses and pose a risk to human health – especially if consumers do not practice safe hygiene measures.

In this case, procedures must be in place to remove or greatly reduce pathogen numbers or inhibit their growth if they are at safe levels. Traditionally this has been achieved by a number of methods, such as altering the pH, temperature, water activity, adding food preservatives such as nitriles and many others examples – most commonly heat treatment e.g. pasteurisation. But as discussed early pathogens are evolving resistance to these methods and increasing their pathogenicity meaning a smaller amount of the pathogen (CFU/gram) can cause disease in the consumer (Yousef, Juneja & Gates 2003). The development of new ways to control pathogens is particularly important for highly pathogenic species such as Verotoxigenic E. coli O157 or species such as L. monocytogenes which are becoming better adapted to surviving even in conditions such as refrigeration.

As a result one novel method of food preservation has arisen, which appears to be gaining popularity, this is the process known as High Hydrostatic Pressure Processing or HPP. This involves pressurising food (in this case meat) to a pressure which inactivates bacteria and other pathogens (typically around 600MPa) for around 5 minutes. The benefits are that the food retains a better taste, appearance, texture and nutrition, because the pressure is applied evenly, the food does not lose shape either (Ohio State University 2004).

A study by Black showed that at a pressure of 400MPa and a temperature of 10oC over 10 minutes, the number of CFU/g of a cocktail of VT E. coli strains was initially reduced by 3 log. Surviving colonies slowly died off after treatment (Black et al. 2010). Omer also showed that HPP does indeed reduce CFU/g. Sausage meat was inoculated with 6.8 log10 CFU/g of VTEC O103:H25, and a pressure of 600MPa was applied in two treatments (10 minutes and 3 cycles of 200 seconds). This reduced the number of pathogens by 2.9 log10 CFU/g and 3.3 log10 CFU/g respectively (Omer et al. 2010).

On-Farm Risks

High levels of pathogens associated with meat inspection cannot be entirely blamed on the abattoirs and processing plants. A lot can be traced back to the farmer, for instance contamination of hides and coats is due poor husbandry conditions, the type of diet, shelter provided etc. The following is a list of risks which farmers should address, adapted from (Edwards, Johnston & Mead 1997):

  • Animals should be kept in controlled environments to protect them from infectious agents and pathogens carried by vermin, such as rats and birds.
  • Ground waters and streams can often be contaminated with bacteria which can survive in the gastrointestinal tract; access to such water resources should be restricted or monitored.
  • Manure and slurry containing manure should be correctly disposed of as they may harbour large numbers of shed pathogens such as E. coli.
  • Protect animal feed as it can become contaminated by pests (such as rats), waste or pollutants

In an attempt to ensure such guidelines were followed on the farm, animals deemed high risk should get more attention at the abattoir at the farmer’s expense. This would encourage them to maintain the health of their livestock.


As meat inspection moves towards review in 2015, the hope is that the system will be modernised. At present, the ability of traditional meat inspection to detect all current and future threats is limited. TSEs, bacterial pathogens and chemical residues are more than able to slip through current meat inspection systems undetected. Fortunately, there are systems in place to remove or reduce any remain threat posed by infected meat, as simple as cooking the meat itself or post-treatment of the meat using techniques such as HPP.

A lot of emphasis is placed on the abattoirs in regards to protecting public health from dangerous meat. Although they do play an important role, the involvement of the farmers, processing plants, retailers and consumers cannot be ignored. A large amount of money is poured into the meat hygiene division of the FSA, upwards of £20 million each year and it seems that this money is not being used cost effectively. If each member of the meat production and consumption chain were to consider their role, strain on the abattoirs would be greatly reduced. For instance, farmers ensuring they provide clean livestock for slaughter or retailers managing and handling meat safely and hygienically.

Traditional meat hygiene is outdated and in my opinion, a waste of resources. The money would be better invested in the modernisation and surveillance of the Meat Hygiene service. The protection it provides to public health in regards to the amount of money being used is minimal. The recent allegations being made that the FSA is to cut funding to abattoirs seems like a step in the right direction for the service, as long as a large proportion of the cuts are used to develop knowledge and further increase the efficiency of meat inspection.

The FSA appear to be making the first steps towards modernising and improving meat hygiene and hopefully post-2015 discussions, new regulations will be put in place to safeguard public health from dangerous meat by making drastic improvements to the meat hygiene services.


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