By: Prerana Bora *
Have you ever wondered how the meat passes through various stages after being obtained from animal to the end customer? Well, the whole process is quite a skilled process that requires plenty of attention to details.
Meat in common words is known as the edible portion of animal tissues. Meat is often categorised based on the type of animal from which it is obtained. E.g. Red meat refers to the meat taken from mammals such as beef, pork and lamb; White meat refers to the meat taken from fish poultry or foul, like chicken, duck, turkey; Seafood refers to the meat taken from fish and shellfish, and ‘Game’ refers to meat taken from any wild animals or birds that are usually not domesticated. In addition to this, the meat is also identified by the live animal from which it has been obtained. E.g. Beef refers to the meat from cattle; Chicken refers to poultry; Veal from calves; Pork from hogs; Lamb from young sheep; Mutton from sheep older than two years; and so on.
In today’s world, there are plenty of meat industries soaring high in their business. Customers are challenging retailers and food service operators to create a value-added quality product with trusted authentic ingredients. With great public concern about food safety, there is a continuous increase in quality control and assurance of products with numerous parameters to check from farm to last mile delivery reaching the customers.
Meat processing is a labour intensive process that requires skilled labours for butchery. Processed meats are anything other than the meat itself such as: cuts; ground meat; sausage; marinated meats; etc., where the meat used must have been slaughtered in a food safety inspected facility. To sell it to the customers the processed meat must be produced in a certified facility. Meat processing involves various steps. Some of the important steps are mentioned below:
Meat Fabrication: Meat cutting and meat fabrication involve the process of cutting, deboning, portioning of large meat cuts to desired specifications. More often preferred cuts are curry cuts, shoulder, loin, legs, ribs, etc. The carcasses are fabricated into primal cuts of meat and these large cuts are based on the muscle and bone structure of the animal. Further, the meat is divided into sub-primal cuts. Depending on the species there are differences in naming and fabricating of these cuts.
Meat Preservation: The main aim of the preservation of meat is to inhibit the microbial spoilage and to minimise the oxidation and enzymatic spoilage. Meat preservation not only kills bacteria but also helps in preserving nutritious properties, taste, texture, colour of meat and keeping the meat edible and safe to consume. Traditionally meat preservation was done by the techniques such as: drying; smoking; brining; fermentation; refrigeration; and canning. Nowadays other techniques are becoming more popular such as: chemical preservation; bio-preservation; and non-thermal processing techniques. The meat preservation methods are also broadly categorised into three main categories such as: controlling temperature; controlling water activity; using chemical or bio-preservatives. Further, a combination of all these preservation techniques can be used to inhibit meat spoilage.
Storage of Meat
Meat and meat products are highly perishable. Many types of bacteria can grow on animal products, so a proper storage process is required to avoid the growth of microorganisms. Unprocessed, raw meat generally stays safe for around three days at the refrigeration temperature. If you are planning to store uncooked meat for a longer time, freezing is the best option. Ideal types of storage of meat and meat products are mentioned below:
Refrigeration: The best temperature for the storage of fresh meat is -2 to 0°C. Because as the storage temperatures of meat approach 4°C the chances of spoilage increases. At around 10°C bacteria start growing rapidly. Cured and smoked meat such as: luncheon meat and canned hams are less prone to spoilage compared to fresh meats. So these meats can stay safe under refrigerated temperatures in their original packaging itself. Whereas, canned products such as: soups; or stews remain safe until they are opened. But once you open the thermal seal they should also be stored under refrigeration as per the directions mentioned on the label.
Freezing: Freezing is the most common method used for the storage of meat. If the meat is not going to be used within a few days after purchase, it should be frozen as soon as possible to preserve its optimal quality. The temperature of freezing should be maintained at -12°C.
Meat packaging requires varieties of packaging materials and machineries. This lengthens the storage period by maintaining product quality. Over the past few years, the amount of packaged fresh meat on sale has increased significantly. Fresh meat is a highly sensitive product. The consumers expect a minimum shelf-life of 10 days without compromising on the quality attributes of meat such as: colour and its microbiological status. It is important to optimally adapt the packaging system in order to be able to offer consumers a healthy and safe product. Therefore fresh meat has to be packed in appropriate packaging materials with sufficient high gas barrier properties. Examples of meat packaging methods are given below:
Vacuum Packaging: Vacuum packaging is the most common method of preserving the colour, flavour and overall quality of the meat from oxygen. The vacuum packaging process involves the removal of all air from the immediate surroundings of the product and hermetically sealing the product within its package. This is done with the help of a vacuum chamber machine.
Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP): As it is clear from the name itself the atmosphere surrounding the product inside its package is modified. Gases such as; nitrogen; carbon dioxide; oxygen; or carbon monoxide; are used in their purified forms for MAP applications.
Shrink Bags: These bags are used for raw meat primals and subprimals. The bag is shrunk after packaging by dipping the product into hot water; or by cascading hot water over the product in a shrink tunnel.
Chub: This is a tubular form of package which is sealed on both ends with metal or polymer clips.
When we say high-quality meat it means the product is free from any foreign substances and it’s safe to consume. It all starts with choosing the right raw material from approved vendors, slaughtered/butchered with utmost care precision, neatly packed and stored at clean storage facilities. Nowadays, various e-commerce industries, retail shops, etc are working really hard to deliver safe, hygiene meat right to the customer’s plate. To achieve this companies are also ensuring that their customers get fresh product, therefore the meats are packaged safely into the food-grade packaging material, then into designed secondary packaging material to protect the product from food fraud and to ensure proper food defence mechanism. Different types of meat/meat products require different modifications for optimal shelf life. Food engineers are working in different dimensions of food science to enhance the meat industry with more uniformity in appearance as well as in eating qualities to meet customer’s need.
* Executive Quality Assurance at Licious, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India