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Real-time detection of faecal contamination of beef carcases

Project start date: 13 February 2017
Project end date: 19 April 2019
Publication date: 17 November 2020
Livestock species: Grain-fed Cattle, Grass-fed Cattle
Relevant regions: National
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Faecal contamination during the slaughter process remains one of the major contributors to bacterial contamination on red meat.

The primary aim of this project was to validate a new real-time technology to understand how faecal detection can be used to reduce pathogenic contamination, increase the shelf life of red meat and increase the profitability of a carcase.

The reduction in trim value through reputational damage is directly linked to the level of contamination recorded in carcases. Therefore, lowering the level of contamination will lower the cost to the processor.


The objectives of the project were to:

  • obtain a quantitative measure of the level of visible and non-visible faecal contamination present on beef carcases 
  • validate faecal detection technology for use as a measuring and monitoring tool for process improvement by:
    • providing information on poor practices
    • showing where process improvements could be made
    • rapidly identifying where processing and carcase handling improvements may exist.

Key findings

  • The Veritide faecal detection system was able to detect areas of non-visual contamination, which led to proactive intervention that reduced the bacterial load on a carcase entering the chiller following processing.
  • Faecal contamination was detected on 0.086% of carcases with rump (65.5%) and right side of the carcase (62.1%) representing the most detected sites.
  • Trimming of the identified contaminated areas using the Veritide scanners reduced the bacterial load. This confirmed that the Veritide faecal detection system could positively impact the shelf-life of the final product.
  • The major influencing factor in profitability is the proportion of manufacturing beef (trim) contaminated with Shiga toxigenic E. coli. At a medium sized processor, the net benefit was estimated at between $0.72 and $0.94 per head for plants with high contamination levels and minimal interventions, compared with between -$0.35 and -$0.38 per head for plants with low contamination levels and multiple interventions.

Benefits to industry

The detection of contaminated areas of a carcase is likely to lead to improvements in food safety assurance and shelf-life for manufacturing beef and specific primal cuts.

It is recommended that, due to the financial benefits and increased hygiene, the industry moves to invest in the commercialisation of the system, particularly in processing plants that do not use pre-slaughter washing. 

MLA action

MLA is reviewing options to expand the technology beyond the manual user interface application, to include, but not limited to:

  • develop other imaging techniques for identification of product defects, in addition to faecal contamination 
  • direct and rapid detection of bacteria and contaminants on food processing equipment as a method of validating hygiene procedures and reduce the risk of cross contamination.

Future research

Further research may be required to adapt technologies used in detection and apply them to expanding applications of this technology in the broader red meat industry, such as:

  • system-automation using camera-based faecal detection modules and image processing techniques to instantly scan whole carcases for faecal contamination
  • system-integration of faecal detection into the existing data logging systems, so that real time monitoring and decision making can be made
  • system-integration in conjunction with the camera system a fully automated machine or robot could be employed to remove faecal contamination.

More information

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Primary researcher: CSIRO