Project Summary

Cattle Washing Research Studies

Principle Investigator(s):
J.W. Savell, Ph.D.
Texas A&M University
Completion Date:
March 2001


Layman’s Summary

Many carcass pathogen intervention systems (hot water rinsing, steam pasteurization, organic acid sprays, etc.) have been developed to help minimize pathogen presence on beef carcasses.  However, pathogens continue to be present at different stages throughout the processing chain and may be found in products that are delivered to the consumer. Although proper cooking will destroy these pathogens, the processor cannot simply rely on the end consumer to properly cook the product. For this reason, if an intervention system can be applied at a step either before or during the harvest or fabrication process, then processors could take necessary actions towards further enhancing their products’ safety and meeting consumer expectations.

Klenzion AgWash-Phase One

Colourlock, a New Zealand based company, has developed a cattle washing solution, AgWash, with a component known as Klenzion.  Klenzion has been proven to reduce total plate counts by 4 to 6 logs in research tests on New Zealand cattle.

USDA regulations will not allow this treatment to be used on cattle and therefore a study was designed that applied the treatment to cattle hides.

Twenty-five cow hides were sampled in three locations (a 450 cm2 area): the brisket, midline and rump before AgWash (1:40) was applied and after the water rinse and AgWash polisher (1:100) was applied. The first wash consisted of two liters of AgWash at a 1:40 dilution being applied for 30 seconds. The AgWash was allowed to sit for 5 minutes and washed for 144 seconds with 10 liters of fresh water. Finally, 2 liters of polisher (1:100 dilution of AgWash) was applied for 30 seconds. Immediately following the polisher application, swabs were taken at the same three locations taken before the wash. Aerobic Plate Counts and Escherichia coli counts were quantified from these swabs.

AgWash significantly reduced aerobic bacteria on all three locations tested (P<.05). The largest reduction was seen on the midline.  After application of AgWash there were no fecal coliforms detected. Due to the low initial fecal coliform count mean there was not a statistically significant effect of AgWash on fecal coliforms.  However, all fecal coliforms were eliminated.

Analysis of an Animal Washing System- Phase I

This study was designed to identify and characterize decontamination procedures that could enhance the safety of the U.S. beef supply pre-harvest. Lone Star Beef Processors, LP, has a cattle washing system designed to remove physical contaminants from the hides of cattle before entering the plant. With less physical contamination, the potential for post-harvest contamination is reduced.  Therefore, this project focused on additional factors such as adding mild concentrations of chlorine and lactic acid to determine if there was a decrease in the numbers of microbiological organisms present on the animal as it enters the abattoir.

Achievement of Specific Objectives

There were two specific objectives that were to be studied during this experiment: (1) determination of the impact of various pre-harvest treatments on microbiological integrity on the live animal and (2) evaluation of the counts of aerobic plate counts, coliforms, generic E. coli, and incidence of Salmonella.  Both of these objectives were obtained by conducting this research. It was determined that the implementation of various treatments can minimize the potential for spread of microorganisms across regions of the hide when compared to a single water wash. The microbiological counts were determined through mean log reductions (log CFU/cm2 – log CFU/cm2) to evaluate the effectiveness of each treatment on the total counts.

Materials and Methods

Four treatments were evaluated in this experiment which included: a single water wash (30 s wash from beneath the animals followed by a 30 s wash from above); 0.5% lactic acid treatment; double water wash which was the same procedure as the single water wash with a 15 s delay and then the 30 s cycle was repeated; and a 50 ppm chlorine solution rinse. Each treatment was applied to 10 animals and three replicates were completed.

Animals were visually scored for location and amount of visible physical contamination according to guidelines set for the in the 1995 National Beef Quality Audit. A representative 100 cm2 swab was obtained prior to wash treatment from each identified animal’s left side in the following locations:  in the brisket region particularly between the juncture of the brisket and the leg, in the belly region along the cranial-caudal midline of the animal, and in the round region along the inner stifle area. After each treatment the animals were allowed to stand for 15 minutes and then swab samples was taken in the same areas.

Coliform, generic E. coli and Aerobic Plate Counts were determined for all samples as well as the presence or absence of Salmonella.

There were no statistical differences (P > 0.05) noted among the treatments for any of the microbiological counts that were tested. No treatment provided a reduction in log CFU/cm2. The lactic acid and chlorine treatments tended (P < 0.05) to provide greater resistance to microbial count increases than did the single water wash. None of the washes impacted the number of samples that tested positive for Salmonella.

Although this experiment did not provide a decrease in microbiological counts, certain treatments did reveal certain trends. At all three locations it was observed that improvements could be made from the standard single water wash by either adding a sanitizing agent (lactic acid or chlorine) or applying a double water wash which increases surface contact time. Further research needs to be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of different concentrations of lactic acid and chlorine.  Higher concentrations of these chemicals could potentially reduce the amount of microorganisms on the animal.  This system appeared to reduce the amount of visible contaminants (dirt, feces, mud) on the animal.  This reduction potentially improves the dressing process, which could impact the microbial status of beef carcasses.

Analysis of an Animal Washing System- Phase II

The objective of this research was to evaluate different chemicals (acetic acid, lactic acid, alcohol, chlorine, paraoxyacetic acid, and water as a control) at differing concentrations as a possibility of reducing the presence of rifampicin-resistant Salmonella Typhimurium on fresh beef hides. Because these chemicals are not approved for use on live animals, hide samples were removed from carcasses and used in this experiment.

Hide samples were inoculated with a suspension of rifampicin-resistant Salmonella serotype Typhimurium.  Samples were allowed 20 minutes for microorganism attachment before sampling and treatment application. Carcass surface sections were sprayed for seven seconds with 60 ml of various concentrations of lactic acid (2, 4, and 6%), acetic acid (2, 4, and 6%), chlorine (100, 200, and 400 ppm), alcohol (70, 80 and 90%), paraoxyacetic acid (0.05, 0.1, and 0.4%) and distilled water (control). A representative hide section was examined for background bacterial levels prior to inoculation, and rifampicin-resistant Salmonella were enumerated before and after hide treatments.  Microorganism populations on hide surfaces were examined by sponging the left side of the hide sample (100 cm2) before application of the treatment and then the right side (100 cm2) after treatment with a damp, sterile sponge.

Log reductions for varying levels of antimicrobial spray wash treatments on hide samples inoculated with Salmonella Typhimurium are presented in Table 1. Concentrated alcohol spray wash treatments were the most effective in the reduction of Salmonella Typhimurium.  Spray wash treatments of concentrated alcohol and high levels (6% and 4%) of acetic and lactic acid were effective in reducing microbial logs of Salmonella Typhimurium.

Table 1. Least squares mean log reductions of varying levels of antimicrobial spray washes on beef hide samples inoculated with Salmonella Typhimurium.


Mean log reductiona





Lactic Acid 2%



Lactic Acid 4%



Lactic Acid 6%



Acetic Acid 2%



Acetic Acid 4%                                  



Acetic Acid 6%



Chlorine 100 ppm



Chlorine 200 ppm



Chlorine 400 ppm



Alcohol 70%



Alcohol 80%



Alcohol 90%



  • aLog reduction = (log CFU/cm2 before treatment) – (log CFU/cm2 after treatment). b,c,d,eWithin a column, means without a common superscript letter differ (P < 0.05).

The effectiveness of these antimicrobial spray washes in reducing Salmonella incidence on fresh beef hides has been demonstrated through this study.  The next logical step is evaluating the effectiveness on other organisms (E. coli= O157:H7) and then developing a feasible system for application on live animals. Humane handling of livestock is of the utmost importance, therefore the safety and concentration limits of these chemicals that do not adversely affect live cattle must be quantified before the chemicals are incorporated into an animal washing system.