Food serves as an important fomite for transmission of disease-causing and antibiotic resistant bacteria to humans. Because this may be an especially challenging problem in low-income countries, the level of microbial surface contamination and abundance of antibiotic resistant Escherichia coli on beef carcasses were estimated. Out of 125 surface swab samples (plated on MacConkey agar), 70 to 100% were positive to Gram-negative bacteria and E. coli, respectively. More than 50% of individual carcasses had bacterial loads below the maximum threshold recommended by the FAO. For carcasses in small- and medium-scale facilities, the average load of bacteria ranged between 0.8 and 1.5 log cfu/cm2, while carcasses in the large slaughter facility had an average loads of between 1.77 and 1.42 log cfu/cm2. Of the 1,272 E. coli isolates tested, 49.4% were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Isolates were frequently resistant to tetracycline (21.7%) and ampicillin (19.2%) while the frequency of resistance to the remaining nine antibiotics was <3%. In addition, 5.3% of isolates were multidrug resistant with 18 different phenotypes. The combination of resistance to ampicillin and tetracycline was the most common. Although, poor sanitation practices were observed, results reflect lower bacterial counts and limited prevalence of antibiotic resistant E. coli relative to other reports in the literature.
Key words: Escherichia coli, antibiotic resistance, slaughterhouse hygiene, meat contamination, public health.
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