A recent analysis of 323 governmental slaughterhouse audits, performed by –The Observer and the non-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), revealed that 86 of the abattoirs tested may be selling bacteria-contaminated meat. In addition, one abattoir was found to have covered-up their poor hygiene records. This means that 1 in 4 slaughterhouses are producing meat that could cause illnesses from microorganisms such as E. coli, which can lead to kidney failure or even death.
Fecal matter contains bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. Fecal contamination can occur during the production process, including from inadequate cleaning of equipment as well as from carcasses touching slaughterhouse floors or being splashed with fecal-contaminated water. A quarter of the slaughterhouses audited were reported to have major hygiene breaches, yet they remain in production. Every year, food poisoning, most often from contaminated meat, poultry and fish, affects an estimated one million people in the UK, with around 500 deaths annually.
Professor Hugh Pennington PhD, CBE, an emeritus professor of bacteriology at the Univerity of Aberdeen in Scotland, who was interviewed by reporters at the Bureau said, “If it was one in 100, even that would be too many, but one in four is unacceptable…the consequences can be catastrophic.”
The Food Standards Agency, whose inspectors performed the audits, responded in a statement: “All carcasses are inspected and directed for rectification if contaminated before health marking, so nothing contaminated goes on to the market and poses a risk to the consumer.” Rectification means cutting off pieces of contaminated meat. But Pennington told the Bureau that this practice was insufficient. ”Just cutting off the infected part isn’t microbiologically sound,” he said. That’s because, even when a noticeably contaminated area is removed, invisible bacteria could have traveled further along on the meat and still remain.
Concerns about meat contamination are not new—nor are they limited to the UK. One study in the US tested meat and poultry samples from 26 grocery stories in 5 US cities and found that almost half had drug-resistant bacteria of the type that caused staph infection. Another investigation by the watchdog group Consumer Reports found that every one of 300 samples of ground beef that had been purchased from 103 stores in 26 cities contained bacteria consistent with fecal contamination. And last year’s E.coli outbreak in the US burrito food chain, Chipotle, that made over 50 people in multiple states sick was privately blamed on contaminated meat that came from Australia, according to news reports.