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BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's Agriculture Ministry said on Thursday it had found salmonella and staphylococci in eight of the 302 samples of meat-based products collected from the 21 meat processing plants being investigated in a corruption probe.
The ministry said it had started procedures to cancel the federal inspection licenses of at least two companies in connection with the findings. Without such licenses, which certify that products are safe, meatpacking companies cannot operate.
The ministry's audit work also raised issues such as excess starch in sausages and water beyond the tolerated limits in chicken samples. Such problems were found in 10.2 percent of the samples, the ministry said.
The 21 plants involved in the audit were implicated in a probe that alleged that major meatpackers bribed federal health inspectors to allow production and marketing of irregular meat-based products.
After concluding the audit work ahead of schedule, the government said it would "intensify inspections" and advance the audit calendar.
Inspections are being carried out in the states of Bahia, Tocatins, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina and São Paulo, the ministry said.
"We want the audits to give us a real sense of the state of inspection services in each state," said Eumar Novacki, executive secretary at the Agriculture Ministry. The findings of the audits will be shared with federal prosecutors and the federal police, he said.
On March 17, an investigation of government sanitation authorities implicated meat-packers such as BRF SA and JBS SA, and prompted large buyers such as China and Hong Kong to ban Brazil's meat products temporarily.
Police have accused more than 100 people, mostly inspectors, of taking bribes in exchange for allowing the sale of rancid products, falsifying export documents or failing to inspect meatpacking plants.
In April and May, Agriculture Ministry officials will visit importers of Brazilian meat products in a bid to show buyers that they are safe, according to the statement.
Earlier this week, the Agriculture Ministry lifted an export ban on three of the 21 plants targeted in the meat probe after the audit work found no irregularities.
Reporting by Cesar Raizer; Writing by Marcelo Teixeira and Ana Mano; Editing by Peter Cooney