It’s been in the news numerous times, typically associated with product recalls. It’s E. coli, or formally known as the pathogen Escherichia coli O157:H7 (O157), a bacteria found in the intestines of animals and humans.
A variety of animals including livestock, wildlife, birds and pets are all possible carriers of the pathogen, but cattle are usually the main carrier of the pathogen. Cattle that have E. coli show no sign of sickness and their production performance is not affected.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection (FSIS) says that producers do not have any idea their animals could be shedding the bacteria, unless a fecal sample is taken. Even if an animal has O157 colonized in the digestive tracts that does not mean the meat of the animal is contaminated. 
“FSIS and the industry have worked to reduce E. coli O157 in raw beef products at the processing level, but it remains a concern in our food supply,” said Neil Gaffney, FSIS spokesperson. “Actions and interventions taken pre-harvest are emerging as an option that offers great opportunity to improve food safety.”
Robert Long, owner of Golden City Meats in Golden says keeping animals as clean as possible before harvest helps to control hide contamination and transmission of E. coli within a herd.
“Farmers should keep clean and dry bedding to prevent heavy soiling of the animal’s brisket area,” said Long. “The brisket area is where the initial cut is made during processing, therefore farmers should do what they can to keep the belly of the animals clean.”
The contamination risk occurs in two ways. When the hide is pulled in a very moist environment of the kill floor and tag particles become airborne. Or, second when the knife is used to split a hide.
It is recommended by the FSIS that slaughter facilities receive cattle from producers that implement pre-harvest management practices, the first control step in an integrated beef safety system.
FSIS suggests these pre-slaughter interventions to farm managers:
1.    Have clean water, feed and environment
2.    Have separate housing of calves and heifers, or reduced animal density
3.    Properly clean equipment used for handling feed and removing manure
4.    Maintain good hygiene practices with farm and feedlot workers
5.    Implement biosecurity – this includes wildlife exclusion to the extent possible
6.    Maintain closed herds
7.    Administer probiotics
8.    Load cattle onto clean trucks with clean, adequate bedding
9.    Use low stress cattle handling techniques
Research from the USDA also supports that cattle on grain-based diets shed higher levels of generic E. coli in their feces than cattle on a high-forage diet. Studies suggest that varying the forage-to-grain ratio in cattle rations can have an effect on E. coli population in cattle feces.
For producers preparing cattle for shipping to slaughter it’s suggested to shrink cattle for 12 to 24 hours before shipping to reduce gut fill to reduce the manure excreted in holding pens during transportation. 
By farmers following simple preventative measures within their beef herds, the risk of E. coli can be lowered. For more details about reducing E. coli on the farm visit


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