updated 12/20/2010 7:51:59 PM ET 2010-12-21T00:51:59

A global beef processor has installed a $4.2 million cow-cleaning system at its Central Valley plant in an effort to improve food safety.

The new apparatus at the 60-acre Cargill factory in Fresno uses spinning bristles and high-pressure nozzles filled with anti-microbial solution to remove dirt and debris from cow carcasses before the hides are removed, The Fresno Bee reported. Most beef processors wash the animal's carcass only after the hide is gone.

In 2009, the plant, Beef Packers Inc., voluntarily recalled nearly 826,000 pounds of ground beef due to salmonella fears.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture had expressed concern about the facility's animal-handling practices the previous year, after department inspectors observed workers using electric prods to stun the cows or knock them unconscious on their way to slaughter.

Cargill, which purchased Beef Packers Inc. in 2006, appealed the alleged violation. The USDA ultimately rescinded its citation against the plant and instead issued a letter of concern.

The plant processes more than 1 million pounds of beef per day and supplies meat to the federal school lunch program.

In addition to the new washing system, Cargill has installed video cameras to monitor animal welfare.

Cowhide washing is not a widespread practice, but livestock experts believe it could help reduce the spread of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli that can collect in and around the narrow shoot leading into the slaughterhouse.

Cargill is considering adding washers at three of its other processing plants, company spokesman Michael Martin told The Fresno Bee.

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