Cleaner cattle and sheep

Last updated:
6 May 2016
The Clean Livestock Policy proposes the standards for acceptable and unacceptable levels of cleanliness for cattle and sheep being presented for slaughter to improve hygiene standards.

Aims

The Clean Livestock Policy aims to ensure a consistent approach to categorisation of animals presented for slaughter and to minimise the risk of food poisoning caused by bacteria on dirty coats and fleeces of cattle and sheep. Excrement and mud on coats or fleeces (especially wet ones), can potentially contaminate meat inside the slaughterhouse when the coat or fleece is being removed. It was published in September 1997 by the then Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) to improve hygiene standards following the fatal E.coli O157 outbreak in Scotland in 1996.

Inspection

Animals should be inspected by food business operators at slaughterhouses to ensure that they are clean and that those that those that present an unacceptable risk of contamination are not slaughtered for human consumption unless they have been cleaned beforehand. FSA operational staff carry out verification checks of operator procedures at the ante-mortem stage . To prevent the contamination of meat and reduce risks to public health, the FSA will reject for slaughter any animal that does not meet the required standard of cleanliness.

To aid consistency the Meat Hygiene Service, former Executive Agency of the FSA, developed a Clean Livestock Policy for cattle and sheep intended for slaughter.

The criteria for identifying the cleanliness of cattle and sheep is separated into five categories, ranging from clean and dry to filthy and wet. Only livestock in categories 1 and 2 (clean and dry/slightly dirty and dry/damp) could proceed to slaughter for human consumption without further action being taken.

Hygiene regulations

Following the application of the 2006 EU Food Hygiene Regulations, the responsibility for the production of safe food lies with the food business operator. All food business operators are required to put in place appropriate controls that demonstrate they are managing food safety within their business. This includes cleanliness of animals at slaughter. Food business operators rearing animals are also required to, as far as possible, ensure the cleanliness of animals going to slaughter.

Clean animals guidance

Guidance booklets have been produced to advise livestock farmers on how to keep their animals clean prior to slaughter. These booklets contain practical guidance for producers who are involved in the beef and sheep supply chain on how to keep animals clean prior to slaughter.

Clean cattle

10 key messages about clean cattle:

  • Livestock may carry harmful bacteria
    Bacteria live on coats and in the digestive tracts and faeces of healthy animals.
     
  • The Clean Livestock Policy has improved cattle cleanliness
    It has resulted in an improvement in the visible cleanliness of animals being slaughtered.
     
  • Dirty cattle cost money
    Whether through rejected animals or slower line speeds at slaughter; and damaged hides due to dung or careless clipping.
     
  • Pre-slaughter diet needs consideration
    Attention to feed prior to slaughter can firm up or reduce the animals' faeces, helping to reduce faecal contamination of the hide.
     
  • Providing adequate bedding improves cattle cleanliness
    Checking bedding on farm, during transport and in lairage at abattoir helps keep cattle clean.
     
  • Clipping can remove visible dirt
    But it is the last resort as clipping can be stressful for the animal and may damage hide and cause injury to operator.
     
  • Wet cattle are a significant hazard
    They get dirty more easily and wet coats mean more mobile bacteria.
     
  • Transport factors can affect cattle cleanliness
    Journey time, lorry design and number of animals transported, all impact on the cleanliness of cattle being delivered to slaughter.
     
  • Mixing unfamiliar animals increases cross-contamination
    Unlike familiar animals, unfamiliar cattle will frequently rub against each other, spreading faecal contamination between animals.
     
  • Bacteria survive well in livestock environments
    The farm, the transport, the market and the holding areas should be kept as clean as possible.

Clean sheep